An isolated crested newt population in Dutch coastal dunes: distribution relict or introduction?
Isolated distribution patches may represent local remnants of a formerly wider range or could have originated by human-mediated expansion beyond the natural range. Distinguishing between these two scenarios is not always straightforward. Northern crested newts (Triturus cristatus) in the Dutch coastal dunes are disconnected from the main species range by over 40 kilometres and whether they have been present historically is unclear. We genotyped crested newts from throughout the Netherlands for an mtDNA marker to determine the provenance of the coastal dune population. Because a closely related species, the Italian crested newt (T. carnifex), has an introduction history in the Netherlands, we also screened eight nuclear DNA SNP markers diagnostic for T. cristatus vs. T. carnifex. The crested newts from the coastal dunes carry a single T. cristatus mtDNA haplotype that naturally occurs in the south, but not the east, of the Netherlands. Therefore, we cannot distinguish if the population represents a natural distribution relict or is derived from an introduction. We find no evidence of genetic admixture with T. carnifex in the coastal dunes, but such admixture is apparent at another Dutch locality (far removed from a previously known genetically admixed population). Our study illustrates how difficult it can be to determine the origin of isolated populations.