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Virus presence within Welsh red squirrels

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FOLLOWING sustained grey squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) control (Schuchert and others 2014), and a red squirrel (Sciurus vulgaris) translocation and conservation programme, red squirrels on Anglesey have increased from a low of 40 animals in 1998, restricted within an isolated coniferous plantation in the east of the island, to in excess of 700 adults island-wide today. In addition, the red squirrel population has expanded in both range and numbers from Anglesey itself. This dispersal is considered to have been a result of the natural movement of red squirrels via the road/rail bridge links from Anglesey to the adjacent mainland coastal woodlands of the county of Gwynedd. This combined north Wales population substantially contributes to a total Welsh red squirrel population of around 1000 adult animals.

In the background to this island conservation success, there is the constant threat from the grey squirrel, which is abundant in Gwynedd. This non-native species presents a competitive effect but also, importantly, the potential for inter-species pathogen transmission. Previous research studies on both Anglesey and elsewhere in north Wales have shown the local grey squirrel populations to be subclinical reservoirs for both squirrelpox virus (SQPV) and adenovirus (ADV) infections. In the case of SQPV, infection of …

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