What Happens When Two Badger Species Meet in Russia?

Two Badger species meet in a contact zone along the Volga and Kama Rivers in Russia. But do they also interbreed?

In the children’s novel “Wind in the Willows“, Mole and Rat visit Badger, who lives deep in the Wild Wood. They are expecting a grumpy black-and-white carnivore, because the rumor goes that Badger does not like visits. However, Badger warmly welcomes both visitors into his large and cosy underground home. This story shows that Badgers can do unexpected things. Perhaps they can even hybridize?

 

Russian Rivers

A recent study in Mammalian Biology focused on a contact zone between two Badger species in Russia. Along the Volga and Kama rivers, European Badger (Meles meles) and Asian Badger (M. leucurus) occasionally bump into one another. Emi Kinoshita and colleagues wanted to know if these encounters also lead to interbreeding.

So, they screened 71 samples with several genetic markers. No less than 17 individuals showed signs of admixture. The genetic make-up of these individuals suggests that backcrossing occurs.

european badger

A European Badger wandering around (from http://www.wikipedia.com/)

 

Westward Expansion

Fossil evidence indicates that the Asian Badger has expanded westwards during the Holocene (the geological epoch from about 12,000 years ago until present). The current hybrid zone probably formed as recent as 100 to 200 years ago. Interestingly, there are contact zones with another species – the Southwest Asian badger (M. canescens) – in the Tian Shan Mountains and the Caucasus. Could there also be hybridization?

It seems that Badgers have moved around more than we (or at least I) expected. But you could have known this if you read “Wind in the Willows”. Here is a quote from Badger himself:

People come—they stay for a while, they flourish, they build—and they go. It is their way. But we remain. There were badgers here, I’ve been told, long before that same city ever came to be. And now there are badgers here again. We are an enduring lot, and we may move out for a time, but we wait, and are patient, and back we come. And so it will ever be.

asian badger

An sniffing Asian Badger (from: http://www.pixabay.com/)

 

References

Kinoshita et al. (2018) Hybridization between the European and Asian badgers (Meles, Carnivora) in the Volga-Kama region, revealed by analyses of maternally, paternally and biparentally inherited genes. Mammalian Biology.

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