The pine marten, Martes martes, is a medium-sized terrestrial carnivore associated with woodland habitats of the western Palearctic region. The present distribution area of the species also includes six islands of the western Mediterranean basin. The origin of these insular populations and their taxonomic status are still debated; their molecular characterization appears relevant for conservation purposes. To describe the genetic variability of the pine martens from Sardinia we characterized 40 insular and 14 Italian individuals at seven nuclear microsatellite loci. The identification of private alleles and the calculated FST value of 0.074 revealed some genetic differentiation between the two populations, which accounts for the high percentages of correct allocation (96.39–98.80%) scored by the genotype assignment test. The presence of two distinct clusters corresponding to Sardinia and mainland Italy was further confirmed by the multivariate Factorial Correspondence Analysis of individual genotypes. Moreover, the genome of the Sardinian individuals bore signs of past demographic fluctuations, i.e. the presence of the monomorphic locus Ma-4, a lower allelic richness and a lower number of private alleles, which may derive from the combination of drift, founder effects, and human overexploitation. Anyway, if such events ever affected the Sardinian population, this is likely to have happened in the past since, according to our microsatellite data, the present-day population does not show evidence of recent bottlenecks or inbreeding, the Wilcoxon sign-rank test and the FIS index being not statistically significant (both P > 0.05). Based on this genetic evidence, we advance hypotheses about the distinctiveness of the Sardinian population and its significance for taxonomy and conservation.
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Vol. 28 • No. 8