, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 1063-1081
Date: 03 Jul 2009

Genetic diversity and taxonomy: a reassessment of species designation in tuatara (Sphenodon : Reptilia)

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Abstract

The identification of species boundaries for allopatric populations is important for setting conservation priorities and can affect conservation management decisions. Tuatara (Sphenodon) are the only living members of the reptile order Sphenodontia and are restricted to islands around New Zealand that are free of introduced mammals. We present new data of microsatellite DNA diversity and substantially increased mtDNA sequence for all 26 sampled tuatara populations. We also re-evaluate existing allozyme data for those populations, and together use them to examine the taxonomic status of those populations. Although one could interpret the data to indicate different taxonomic designations, we conclude that, contrary to current taxonomy, Sphenodon is best described as a single species that contains distinctive and important geographic variants. We also examine amounts of genetic variation within populations and discuss the implications of these findings for the conservation management of this iconic taxon.