Allman, P.

Population stock structure of leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Atlantic revealed using mtDNA and microsatellite markers


This study presents a comprehensive genetic analysis of stock structure for leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea), combining 17 microsatellite loci and 763 bp of the mtDNA control region. Recently discovered eastern Atlantic nesting populations of this critically endangered species were absent in a previous survey that found little ocean-wide mtDNA variation. We added rookeries in West Africa and Brazil and generated longer sequences for previously analyzed samples. A total of 1,417 individuals were sampled from nine nesting sites in the Atlantic and SW Indian Ocean. We detected additional mtDNA variation with the longer sequences, identifying ten polymorphic sites that resolved a total of ten haplotypes, including three new variants of haplotypes previously described by shorter sequences. Population differentiation was substantial between all but two adjacent rookery pairs, and FST values ranged from 0.034 to 0.676 and 0.004 to 0.205 for mtDNA and microsatellite data respectively, suggesting that male-mediated gene flow is not as widespread as previously assumed. We detected weak (FST = 0.008 and 0.006) but significant differentiation with microsatellites between the two population pairs that were indistinguishable with mtDNA data. POWSIM analysis showed that our mtDNA marker had very low statistical power to detect weak structure (FST \ 0.005), while our microsatellite marker array had high power. We conclude that the weak differentiation detected with microsatellites reflects a fine scale level of demographic independence that warrants recognition, and that all nine of the nesting colonies should be considered as demographically independent populations for conservation. Our findings illustrate the importance of evaluating the power of specific genetic markers to detect structure in order to correctly identify the appropriate population units to conserve. 

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring