Assessing the cryptic invasion of a domestic conspecific: American mink in their native range
The release of domesticated organisms into natural populations may adversely affect these populations through predation, resource competition, and the introduction of disease. Additionally, the potential for hybridization between wild and domestic conspecifics is of great concern because it can alter the evolutionary integrity of the affected populations. Wild American mink (Neovison vison) populations may be threatened not only by competition for resources with domestic mink originating from farms, but by breeding with such escapees. Using 10 microsatellite loci, we genotyped mink from Ontario, Canada, sampled from two farms, two putatively mixed populations in regions surrounding the mink farms, and two wild populations with no recent history of mink farming. Using individual-based Bayesian population assignment, we identified four population clusters, including one wild, and three domestic populations. The latter were not clustered by farm but rather by distinct line-bred colour phases. Population clustering also identified domestic and hybrid mink in the free-ranging populations. Nearly two-thirds of the mink sampled in the two putatively mixed populations (78% and 43%) were either farm escapees or descendants of escapees. Principal components analysis of allele frequencies supported our Bayesian assignment results. The power of our assignment test was assessed using simulated hybrid genotypes which suggested that our overall correct classification rate was 96.2%. The overwhelming presence of domestic animals and their hybridization with mink in natural populations is of great concern for the future sustainability of wild mink populations.