, Volume 149, Issue 5, pp 1269-1279
Date: 17 Mar 2006

Genetic structuring of immature loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) in the Mediterranean Sea reflects water circulation patterns

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Abstract

The analysis of mitochondrial DNA in loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) from eight foraging grounds in the Mediterranean and the adjoining Atlantic revealed deep genetic structuring within the western Mediterranean. As a consequence, the foraging grounds off the North-African coast and the Gimnesies Islands are shown to be inhabited mainly by turtles of the Atlantic stocks, whereas the foraging grounds off the European shore of the western Mediterranean are shown to be inhabited mainly by turtles from the eastern Mediterranean rookeries. This structuring is explained by the pattern of sea surface currents and water masses and suggests that immature loggerhead sea turtles entering the western Mediterranean from the Atlantic and the eastern Mediterranean remain linked to particular water masses, with a limited exchange of turtles between water masses. As the north of the western Mediterranean comprises mostly individuals from the highly endangered eastern Mediterranean rookeries, conservation plans should make it a priority to reduce the mortality caused by incidental by-catch in these areas.

Communicated by S.A. Poulet, Roscoff