Research Article

Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 5, pp 1871-1884

First online:

Population structure and conservation implications for the loggerhead sea turtle of the Cape Verde Islands

  • Catalina Monzón-ArgüelloAffiliated withInstituto Canario de Ciencias Marinas Email author 
  • , Ciro RicoAffiliated withEstación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC)
  • , Eugenia Naro-MacielAffiliated withBiology Department, College of Staten Island/City University of New York
  • , Nuria Varo-CruzAffiliated withDepartamento de Biología, Universidad de Las Palmas de G.C.
  • , Pedro LópezAffiliated withNaturalia, Capa Verder Ltd.
  • , Adolfo MarcoAffiliated withEstación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC)
  • , Luis Felipe López-JuradoAffiliated withDepartamento de Biología, Universidad de Las Palmas de G.C.

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The Cape Verde Islands harbour the second largest nesting aggregation of the globally endangered loggerhead sea turtle in the Atlantic. To characterize the unknown genetic structure, connectivity, and demographic history of this population, we sequenced a segment of the mitochondrial (mt) DNA control region (380 bp, n = 186) and genotyped 12 microsatellite loci (n = 128) in females nesting at three islands of Cape Verde. No genetic differentiation in either haplotype or allele frequencies was found among the islands (mtDNA F ST = 0.001, P > 0.02; nDNA F ST = 0.001, P > 0.126). However, population pairwise comparisons of the mtDNA data revealed significant differences between Cape Verde and all previously sequenced Atlantic and Mediterranean rookeries (F ST = 0.745; P < 0.000). Results of a mixed stock analysis of mtDNA data from 10 published oceanic feeding grounds showed that feeding grounds of the Madeira, Azores, and the Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean, and Gimnesies, Pitiüses, and Andalusia, in the Mediterranean sea, are feeding grounds used by turtles born in Cape Verde, but that about 43% (±19%) of Cape Verde juveniles disperse to unknown areas. In a subset of samples (n = 145) we evaluated the utility of a longer segment (~760 bp) amplified by recently designed mtDNA control region primers for assessing the genetic structure of Atlantic loggerhead turtles. The analysis of the longer fragment revealed more variants overall than in the shorter segments. The genetic data presented here are likely to improve assignment and population genetic analyses, with significant conservation and research applications.


Conservation genetics Mitochondrial DNA Microsatellites Caretta Macaronesia Population structure