Rapid increases in global trade and human movement have created novel mixtures of organisms bringing with them the potential to rapidly accelerate the evolution of new forms. The common brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula), introduced into New Zealand from Australia in the 19th century, is one such species having been sourced from multiple populations in its native range. Here, we combine microsatellite DNA and GIS-based spatial data to show that T. vulpecula originating from at least two different Australian locations exhibit a population structure that is commensurate with their introduction history and which cannot be explained by landscape features alone. Most importantly, we identify a hybrid zone between the two subspecies which appears to function as a barrier to dispersal. When combined with previous genetic, morphological and captive studies, our data suggest that assortative mating between the two subspecies may operate at a behavioural or species recognition level rather than through fertilization, genetic incompatibility or developmental inhibition. Nevertheless, hybridization between the two subspecies of possum clearly occurs, creating the opportunity for novel genetic combinations that would not occur in their natural ranges and which is especially likely given that multiple contact zones occur in New Zealand. This discovery has implications for wildlife management in New Zealand because multiple contact zones are likely to influence the dispersal patterns of possums and because differential susceptibility to baiting with sodium fluoroacetate between possums of different origins may promote novel genetic forms.
SARRE, S., Aitken, N., ADAMACK, A., MACDONALD, A., GRUBER, B., & Cowan, P. (2014). Creating new evolutionary pathways through bioinvasion: the population genetics of brushtail possums in New Zealand. Molecular Ecology, 23(14), 3419-3433. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.12834