The genetic legacy of multiple beaver reintroductions in Central Europe

PLoS One. 2014 May 14;9(5):e97619. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097619. eCollection 2014.


The comeback of the Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) throughout western and central Europe is considered a major conservation success. Traditionally, several subspecies are recognised by morphology and mitochondrial haplotype, each linked to a relict population. During various reintroduction programs in the 20th century, beavers from multiple source localities were released and now form viable populations. These programs differed in their reintroduction strategies, i.e., using pure subspecies vs. mixed source populations. This inhomogeneity in management actions generated ongoing debates regarding the origin of present beaver populations and appropriate management plans for the future. By sequencing of the mitochondrial control region and microsatellite genotyping of 235 beaver individuals from five selected regions in Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg, and Belgium we show that beavers from at least four source origins currently form admixed, genetically diverse populations that spread across the study region. While regional occurrences of invasive North American beavers (n = 20) were found, all but one C. fiber bore the mitochondrial haplotype of the autochthonous western Evolutionary Significant Unit (ESU). Considering this, as well as the viability of admixed populations and the fact that the fusion of different lineages is already progressing in all studied regions, we argue that admixture between different beaver source populations should be generally accepted.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conservation of Natural Resources*
  • Crosses, Genetic
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Gene Flow*
  • Genetic Variation
  • Haplotypes
  • Introduced Species
  • Male
  • Phylogeny*
  • Phylogeography
  • Rodentia / classification
  • Rodentia / genetics*


  • DNA, Mitochondrial

Grant support

This study was financially supported by the Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt, Hesse, Germany. CF received funding from the Johanna Samel-Stiftung and the Frankfurt Zoological Society. RHSK was funded by grant SAW-2011-SGN-3 from the Leibniz Association. Additional funding comes from Hesse’s LOEWE excellence initiative. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.