Where did they come from? Genetic diversity and forensic investigation of the threatened palm species Butia eriospatha
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- Nazareno, A.G. & dos Reis, M.S. Conserv Genet (2014) 15: 441. doi:10.1007/s10592-013-0552-1
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Few studies have assessed the genetic diversity that exists in individuals that were illegally-traded. In this paper, we evaluate the genetic consequences of illegal trade of the palm species Butia eriospatha. Although it is protected by Brazilian environmental law, information about the genetic consequences of illegal trading which can be used to support conservation planning is still needed. The two main questions approached were: (a) do illegally-traded individuals have higher levels of genetic diversity than those found in wild populations; and (b) where did the illegally-traded individuals come from? To answer these questions, we used nine microsatellite loci to quantify the genetic diversity in eight wild populations (n = 390) and one group of individuals (n = 50) planted in an urban area of Southern Brazil. For the forensic investigation, an assignment exclusion-test was performed. Remarkably, the illegally-traded B. eriospatha individuals had more genetic variation than all of the studied wild B. eriospatha populations, suggesting that there is no single target population used by poachers. Accordingly, the multilocus assignment test indicated that the urban B. eriospatha individuals came from a variety of different populations, with 46 % coming from populations not surveyed in this study. In light of these results, we discuss the very real problem of illegal trading of B. eriospatha that must be quickly addressed. Our results provide information that can be used to help support B. eriospatha conservation.