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SPECIES VARIATION - Editorial Comment

Editorial Comment (Editorial Overview Text Replicated on Overall Species page - Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog)

Considerable variations have been recorded within Erinaceus europaeus. Several sub-species have been proposed based on various features including size and colouration. Some separations into subspecies is supported by studies of DNA. DNA data also support the separation of the West European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus from Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog. There are some karyotypic (differences in chromosome size and arrangement) differences between hedgehogs from Britain and those from mainland Europe.

Further information on reproduction is provided in West European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus - Life Stages (Literature Reports)

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Intraspecific Variation

Source Information
  • Considerable variations exist in the appearance of European hedgehogs across Europe in terms of size, colour and shape. For example  Spanish hedgehogs tend to be paler, British and Cretan individuals smaller, eastern European animals tend to have a white breast while western individuals are brown. The division into the eastern and western European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus and Erinaceus concolor) is generally accepted but there is still debate as to whether valid subspecies exist within each species. (B52)
  • Differences in skull morphology and chromosome appearance (karyotype), as well as pelage, form the basis for the separation and classification of Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog. (J82.18.w1, B144)
    • Animals from the previously-considered subspecies Erinaceus europaeus europaeus and Erinaceus europaeus roumanicus  (Erinaceus europaeus concolor) were shown to have the same number of chromosomes (2n=48) but different karyotypes. (J9.214.w1)
  • Breeding experiments of captive West European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and East European hedgehogs (Erinaceus concolor) have revealed that the species have limited interfertility. (B52, B228.1.w1, B285.w1)
    • F1 litters have been produced and hybrids reported to exhibit a range of variable intermediate characteristics between the species. (B228.1.w1)
  • Individuals with external characteristics of both species and therefore presumed to be hybrids between Erinaceus europaeus and Erinaceus roumanicus [Erinaceus concolor] have been observed in the wild in the area where both species may be found. (B258.w3)
    • Hybrids were produced in captivity between a female Erinaceus europaeus and a male Erinaceus roumanicus [Erinaceus concolor]. Additionally, young were produced following the release of female Erinaceus roumanicus [Erinaceus concolor] and male Erinaceus europaeus on a hedgehog-free island. In both cases the offspring [F1] showed physical characteristics with characteristics of both parents. (B258.w2)
  • Evaluation of skull biometric data from captive and wild hedgehog skulls by various authors has reached variable conclusions as to the importance of interbreeding in the wild. Some authors have cited evidence for limited cross-breeding in areas with geographically overlapping or sympatric populations. (B228.1.w1)
  • Authors suggest there is no evidence that interbreeding between West European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) and East European hedgehogs (Erinaceus concolor) does not occur in the wild. (B143)
  • The literature includes reference to seven possible geographical races although their status is not certain. Initial work investigating allozyme data suggests that Erinaceus europaeus europaeus Linnaeus, 1758 and Erinaceus europaeus italicus Barrett-Hamilton, 1900 may be subspecies. Erinaceus europaeus hispanicus Barrett-Hamilton, 1900 may be a subspecies or even a separate species. (B143)
  • Eight forms of European hedgehog have been suggested (B258.3.w3), with the Western European hedgehog Erinaceus europaeus including the forms europaeus, central rossicus, hispanicus and italicus while the Eastern or white-breasted hedgehog Erinaceus roumanicus included roumanicus and transcaucasius. The forms nesiotes from Crete and rhodius from Rhodes had not been definitely assigned to either species. (B258.3.w3)
  • A British subspecies, Erinaceus europaeus occidentalis, was previously suggested on the basis of variation in skull morphology, but this classification was not recognised. (B142)
  • Differences in karyotype from mainland hedgehogs have been shown for British hedgehogs. (J46.206.w1)
  • Morphological characteristics have suggested subspecies division for each species of the European hedgehog species, Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog, although no classification has been accepted. (P35.3.w7)
  • The colouration of hair on the breast and the face have been suggested as external morphological factors used for the differentiation of Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog. (P35.3.w9)
  • The presence of both Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog species in Estonia was first documented in 1988. Genetic analyses identified a hybrid animal from Värska, south-east Estonia. (P35.3.w9)
  • Studies of the hedgehog populations in Estonia have suggested a number of additional morphological characteristics used for differentiation of local populations of Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog which include "1. the shape of the upper edge of the nose tip; 2. the shape of the inner solear pad of the forefoot; 3. the position of anterior edge of the solear pad of the hind foot; 4. the shape of the anterior edge of the solear pad of the hind foot; 5. presence of white spots on the forefeet; 6. presence of white spots on the hind feet". (P35.3.w9)
  • Mitochondrial DNA analyses were used to investigate genetic variation amongst European hedgehogs and to comment on how this may relate to their historical colonisation routes and species evolution. Various computer-generated phylogenetic analyses with maximum parsimony concluded that there was marked divergence between Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog and evidence for eastern and western clades for each species respectively. (P35.3.w7)
  • In Italy, both the species Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog and Erinaceus concolor - East European hedgehog are found. 
    • Erinaceus europaeus - West European Hedgehog is present throughout the peninsula and large islands (Sicilia, Sardegna, Elba, Alicudi).
    • Subspecies classification for E. europaeus italicus is supported by genetic evidence.
    • Subspecies classification of E. europaeus consolei in Sicilia is unclear.
    • Subspecies classification for E. concolor remains unclear with some evidence to support an eastern form.
    • (P35.3.w19)
  • Genetic studies of allozyme locus variation were performed on hedgehogs from Sardinia where two phenotypes are present; the first with a grey/ brown muzzle/ skin and spines with a typical succession of black and white rings; the second with a pale yellow body / muzzle and paler coloured 'dark' rings on the spines. No difference in allele frequencies was found between the two phenotypes. (P35.4.w6)
  • DNA studies have been used to describe genetic variation and subdivisions within European hedgehogs as part of a larger study on the post-glacial re-colonisation of European animals and plants moving north from southern refugia. The study of hedgehog mtDNA showed distinct differences between the genomes of the two species Erinaceus europaeus and Erinaceus concolor. Additional distinctions could be shown between Erinaceus europaeus hedgehogs from the Iberian peninsula (and north from that region) and those from Italy and Germany (and north from that region). Similarly there were distinct differences between the haplotypes of Erinaceus concolor from the Balkans (and north from that region) and those from Turkey and Israel. (J181.68.w1)

(B52, B142, B143, B144, B228.1.w1, B285.w1, J46.206.w1, J181.68.w1, P35.3.w7, P35.3.w7, P35.3.w9, P35.3.w19, P35.4.w6)

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Authors & Referees

Authors Becki Lawson (V.w26); Debra Bourne (V.w5)
Referee Suzanne I. Boardman (V.w6); Nigel Reeve (V.w57)

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