This iconic rodent is the most deserving to be sequenced, but I am also slightly biased as their representative. This adorable arboreal mystery mammal is only found in the South of England but was reintroduce into Yorkshire and the Midlands over five years ago. You may recognise the most infamous dormouse who featured as a particularly sleepy member of the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in classic British novel and Disney film adaptation, Alice in Wonderland.
Their distinctive bushy tails, ginger fluff and beady black eyes distinguishes them from their close relative, the Edible Dormouse (Glis glis). They were accidentally introduced to Trig in Hertfordshire in 1902 and outcompeted their native cousins (Carroll, 2014). A population of Edible Dormice can still be found there and only there! They are considered a delicacy in Slovenia and were once farmed for food during the Roman times in England. Because of their endangerment status in the UK they are no longer for eating but great for photo opportunities.
Although the current UK population of the Hazel Dormouse is unknown, it is known to be declining. Nest box counts and the Great Nut Hunt have helped to give predictions of population declines (Juskaitis, 2006). When a dormouse has a munch they leave a distinctive smooth hole on the shell of nuts. After they have chowed down, it appears as though they left a little clog behind.
The different nut shells are identified to predict the population and differences in trends from previous years and the outcome has not been great for our beady-eyed friend. The reason for the population decrease in the Hazel Dormouse is due to habitat destruction and loss of resources with the ever frequent urban and industrial development occurring in England (Morris, 2003).
The essential insight into evolutionary development from sequencing a genome may give the abundance of the species hope in the UK. Conservation genetics is vital to assist in the repopulation of a species for a multitude of reasons. Avoiding inbreeding and maintaining a vast genetic pool is a priority (the main reason why some species – e.g. cheetahs – are in decline).
Genomes provide a greater understanding of the bodies requirements specific to the species such as certain deficiencies, diet and concurrent health concerns such a disease. If we could identify some similarities, we could better support the iconic species in becoming common once again.
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Bright, P.W. and Morris, P.A., 1996. Why are dormice rare? A case study in conservation biology. Mammal Review, 26(4), pp.157-187
Buffenstein, R., 2005. The naked mole-rat: a new long-living model for human aging research. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 60(11), pp.1369-1377.
Carroll, G., 2014. Mouse. Reaktion Books.
I’m a Scientist. 2017. Available at: https://imascientist.org.uk/
Juskaitis, R., 2006. Nestbox grids in population studies of the common dormouse (Muscardinus avellanarius L.): methodological aspects. Polish Journal of Ecology, 54(3), pp.351-358
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species. 2017. Available at: https://ptes.org/
The Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. 2017. Available at: http://www.sanger.ac.uk/