SCIENTISTS are appealing to Shetlanders to collect as many dead mice as they can as part of research into the evolution of the species.
Dr Frank Chan of the Max Plank Institute for Evolutionary Biology, in Germany, is leading a study to search for genetic clues to the ancestry of Shetland mice, suggesting a common Viking origin.
The work follows on from the discovery by a team led by Professor Jeremy Searle of a shared genetic ancestry between Shetland’s native house mouse and Norwegian mice.
Dr Chan said he would appreciate if the dead mice could be delivered to the Lerwick office of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) where they will go into a deep freeze before delivery to the Max Plank Institute.
“Since Darwin’s days, natural scientists have been drawn by the unique potential of islands creatures to tell us about how species evolve.
“Their very remoteness makes them ideal natural laboratories, where all kinds of fascinating biology plays out.
“Because house mice adapt to all kinds of environment, we believe they represent our best chance at understanding this process,” Dr Chan said.
Shetland has two species of mouse; the house mouse (Mus musculus) is brownish grey all over and usually only slightly paler underneath. The wood mouse or long-tailed field mouse (Apodemus sylvaticus), known in Shetland as hill mouse, has brown upper parts and is almost white underneath.
Both species are believed to have arrived in Shetland from Scandinavia, presumably as stowaway passengers in the longboats of Norse settlers or traders.
Researchers in the UK and beyond have already identified the genetic code of house mice in Shetland as an important clue to the evolution of mammal species across Europe.
Prof Searle and his team identified a ‘Viking mouse’ genetic link between the mice populations of Shetland and Norway by tracing the origin of their populations through minute changes in their DNA.
SNH Shetland area officer Jonathan Swale said: “We’re asking Shetlanders to support this line of research into evolution by bringing in any house mice they might catch over the next two months.
“This project has exciting prospects which may lead to new insights into how mammals have evolved in these islands and across Europe through the millennia.
“It’s a slightly unusual approach to be asking householders to bring us their dead mice but it is the most practical and straightforward way of providing the research team with genuine Shetland house mice for their study.
“Anyone who catches a house mouse is asked to bring it to the SNH office in Lerwick as soon as possible after it is caught. We will freeze the mice and send them on to Germany.”
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