, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 305-318
Date: 28 Sep 2006

Genetic variation in island populations of tuatara (Sphenodon spp) inferred from microsatellite markers

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Tuatara (Sphenodon spp) populations are restricted to 35 offshore islands in the Hauraki Gulf, Bay of Plenty and Cook Strait of New Zealand. Low levels of genetic variation have previously been revealed by allozyme and mtDNA analyses. In this new study, we show that six polymorphic microsatellite loci display high levels of genetic variation in 14 populations across the geographic range of tuatara. These populations are characterised by disjunct allele frequency spectra with high numbers of private alleles. High F ST (0.26) values indicate marked population structure and assignment tests allocate 96% of all individuals to their source populations. These genetic data confirm that islands support genetically distinct populations. Principal component analysis and allelic sequence data supplied information about genetic relationships between populations. Low numbers of rare alleles and low allelic richness identified populations with reduced genetic diversity. Little Barrier Island has very low numbers of old tuatara which have retained some relictual diversity. North Brother Island’s tuatara population is inbred with fixed alleles at 5 of the 6 loci.