Will an ancient refuge become a modern one ? A critical review on the conservation and research priorities for the red squirrel (**Sciurus vulgaris**) in the Iberian peninsula
Faculty of Sciences. Biology
Hystrix. - Place of publication unknown
, p. 9-13
University of Antwerp
Mediterranean peninsulas are well-known glacial refugia for several mammal species. For Eurasian red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris), a forest-dwelling rodent, there is some evidence that population diversification was influenced by these refugia. Here, we review the poorly known history of the red squirrel in the Iberian Peninsula, and discuss current threats to this species, suggesting conservation guidelines and exploring several research lines for forthcoming studies. Red squirrel populations suffered several bottlenecks in Iberia, but recently, after four centuries of absence, this species is expanding throughout the Portuguese territory. Although S. vulgaris taxonomic and genetic status needs further investigation, molecular data support the occurrence of a possible distinct cluster in the Iberian Peninsula. Additionally, a distinct and endemic population was recorded to the Sierra de Espuna, in Spain, which was probably the result of Quaternary climatic and vegetation fluctuations. Two major threats for red squirrels in Europe were identified: (i) habitat deterioration; and (ii) competition with the invasive Eastern grey squirrel (S. carolinensis). Conservation actions should focus on the conservation, restoration and appropriate management of suitable forested habitats. Although to date no grey squirrels occur in the wild in the Iberia, the trade and release of this invasive sciurid species is already forbidden by national conservation agencies in both Iberian countries and awareness campaigns are suggested. An integrated research approach using both molecular and ecological data, and a large data-set containing samples from the entire Iberian Peninsula, should be followed to better understand historical, contemporary and future factors that may affect squirrel distribution.