Unlike many regions in the world where wild pigs (Sus scrofa) are threatened, in Australia they are a significant invasive species. As such, the molecular ecology of feral pigs was investigated to understand their social and population genetic structure. Samples from 269 adult animals were collected over their distribution in southwestern Australia. Using 14 highly polymorphic microsatellite markers, we identified 7 inferred feral pig populations that had moderate heterozygosity (mean = 0.580) and displayed a high level of differentiation (mean RST = 0.180). In revealing the genetic structure of feral pigs, we detected anomalies in the putative origin of some individuals. Samples from these animals were collected from 2 main areas: recently colonized regions that were previously uninfested, and established feral pig populations, where animals from geographically isolated areas had been introduced. In the latter, these corresponded to areas that were in close proximity to public road access and towns. Given the large distances immigrants were found from their population of origin (from 50 to > 400 km), the generally low levels of dispersal of southwest feral pigs, and the grouping and sex of these pigs, we suggest that these individuals have been deliberately and illegally translocated to supplement recreational hunting stocks. Additionally, we could not detect any genetic contribution in these feral pigs from domestic pig herds, suggesting that the deliberate release of domestic pigs to restock feral populations is relatively uncommon. Our molecular data allowed some inferences regarding the success or lack thereof of current management practices, and offered considerable insights into the dynamics of the feral pig populations and identification of “new” approaches that may allow for better control of this highly destructive species.
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Vol. 69 • No. 1