Regional differentiation among populations of the Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin)
The Diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin) is a brackish-water turtle species whose populations have been fragmented due to anthropogenic activity such as development of coastal habitat and entrapment in commercial blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) fishing gear. Genetic analyses can improve conservation efforts for the long-term protection of the species. We used microsatellite DNA analysis to investigate levels of gene flow among and genetic variability within 21 geographically separate collections of the species distributed from Massachusetts to Texas. Quantified levels of genetic variability (allelic diversity, genotypic frequencies, and heterozygosity) revealed three zones of genetic discontinuity, resulting in four discrete populations: Northeast Atlantic, Coastal Mid-Atlantic, Florida and Texas/Louisiana. The average number of alleles and expected heterozygosity for the four genetic clusters were NA = 6.54 and HE = 0.050, respectively. However, the geographic boundaries of the populations did not correspond to accepted terrapin subspecies limits. Our results illuminate not only the need to sample terrapins in additional sites, specifically in the southeast, but also the necessity for allowing uninterrupted gene flow among population groupings to preserve current levels of genetic diversity.