Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 1-13

Genetic assessment, illegal trafficking and management of the Mediterranean spur-thighed tortoise in Southern Spain and Northern Africa

  • María SalinasAffiliated withDepartament de Ciència Animal i dels Aliments, Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona Email author 
  • , Laura AltetAffiliated withDepartament de Ciència Animal i dels Aliments, Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
  • , Cristina ClavelAffiliated withDpto de Medicina y Cirugía Animal, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad de Murcia
  • , Ramón Miguel AlmelaAffiliated withDpto de Medicina y Cirugía Animal, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad de Murcia
  • , Alejandro BayónAffiliated withDpto de Medicina y Cirugía Animal, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad de Murcia
  • , Isabel BurgueteAffiliated withDpto de Producción Animal, Facultad de Veterinaria, Universidad de Murcia
  • , Armand SánchezAffiliated withDepartament de Ciència Animal i dels Aliments, Facultat de Veterinària, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

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Abstract

Wild populations of many species are declining as a result of habitat destruction and climate change but also through the over-collection for wild meat and the pet trade. With a long history of trade around the Mediterranean, populations of the spur-thighed tortoise (Testudo graeca graeca) have become highly disturbed. In this study we utilise a molecular approach to investigate the diversity, population admixture and structure of T. g. graeca populations in northern Africa and southern Spain, as well as to obtain an insight into the origin of newly established populations in the south of Europe. We infer this from the sequencing of two partial regions of the mitochondria (12s rRNA + cyt b) and genotyping at 16 microsatellite markers in 448 tortoises. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that Spanish populations were founded from North Africa, the consequence of multiple introductions or exchanges in genetic material as a result of trans-oceanic dispersal. Despite the trade of individuals between both sides of the Gibraltar Strait, our analysis of population structure showed clear differences between both the African and European populations, suggesting an incipient evolutionary lineage in southeast of Spain. As such, these populations possess unique genetic identities and should be treated as different management units. Surprisingly, the genetic data identified a great deal of diversity contained within pet (captive) stock and also allowed us to infer hybrids among individuals with another species of terrestrial tortoise from northern Spain (T. hermanni hermanni). Additionally, our results provide insight into the local movement and trade of individuals that has occurred around the Mediterranean basin (between northern Africa and southern Spain) and as such provides guidance for the effective management of T. g. graeca captive stock and the illegal trafficking.

Keywords

Endangered species Conservation Illegal movement Species management plan Testudinidae Testudo graeca