Marine Biology

, Volume 158, Issue 3, pp 571–587 | Cite as

Genetic structure of the southeastern United States loggerhead turtle nesting aggregation: evidence of additional structure within the peninsular Florida recovery unit

  • Brian M. Shamblin
  • Mark G. Dodd
  • Dean A. Bagley
  • Llewellyn M. Ehrhart
  • Anton D. Tucker
  • Chris Johnson
  • Raymond R. Carthy
  • Russell A. Scarpino
  • Erin McMichael
  • David S. Addison
  • Kristina L. Williams
  • Michael G. Frick
  • Stefanie Ouellette
  • Anne B. Meylan
  • Matthew H. Godfrey
  • Sally R. Murphy
  • Campbell J. NairnEmail author
Original Paper


The southeastern United States supports one of two large loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) nesting aggregations worldwide and is therefore critical to global conservation and recovery efforts for the species. Previous studies have established the presence of four demographically distinct nesting populations (management units) corresponding to beaches from (1) North Carolina through northeastern Florida, (2) peninsular Florida, (3) the Dry Tortugas, and (4) northwest Florida. Temporal and geographic genetic structure of the nesting aggregation was examined utilizing partial mitochondrial control region haplotype frequencies from 834 samples collected over the 2002 through 2008 nesting seasons from 19 beaches as well as previously published haplotype data. Most rookeries did not exhibit interannual genetic variation. However, the interannual variation detected did significantly impact the interpretation of spatial genetic structure in northeastern Florida. Based on pairwise F ST comparisons, exact tests of population differentiation, and analysis of molecular variance, the present study upholds the distinctiveness of the four currently recognized management units and further supports recognition of discrete central eastern, southern (southeastern and southwestern), and central western Florida management units. Further subdivision may be warranted, but more intensive genetic sampling is required. In addition, tools such as telemetry and mark-recapture are needed to complement genetic data and overcome limitations of genetic markers in resolving loggerhead turtle rookery connectivity in the southeastern USA.


Haplotype Frequency Management Unit Green Turtle Nest Density Nest Season 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



In additional to the many students, interns, technicians, and volunteers associated with authors’ institutions, we thank individuals representing the following organizations for providing samples: Bald Head Island Conservancy, Amelia Island Sea Turtle Watch, Ponte Vedra Turtle Patrol, Vilano Marine Turtle Patrol, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Flagler-Volusia Turtle Patrol, Ecological Associates, Inc., John U. Lloyd State Park, National Marine Fisheries Service Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, St. George Island Volunteer Turtlers, and T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park. We thank D. Browning and S. Dawsey of Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, J. Stiner and C. Carter of Canaveral National Seashore, and P. Tritaik of Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge for permitting beach access and logistical assistance. D. Griffin from South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and A. McKee of the University of Georgia assisted with sample collection on Cape Island. Thanks to M. Koperski and R. Trindell for assistance with Florida permitting, and G. Clark of the University of Florida sequencing core facility for haplotype assignments of the CSB samples. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s nest survey program is supported by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. We gratefully acknowledge funding provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Protected Species Cooperative Conservation Grant Program, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, The Environmental Resource Network, and the University of Georgia Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources. This research was funded in part by a grant awarded from the Sea Turtle Grants Program. The Sea Turtle Grants Program is funded from proceeds from the sale of the Florida Sea Turtle License Plate. Learn more at We would also like to thank two anonymous reviewers for substantially increasing the quality of the manuscript.

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Brian M. Shamblin
    • 1
  • Mark G. Dodd
    • 2
  • Dean A. Bagley
    • 3
  • Llewellyn M. Ehrhart
    • 3
  • Anton D. Tucker
    • 4
  • Chris Johnson
    • 5
  • Raymond R. Carthy
    • 6
  • Russell A. Scarpino
    • 6
  • Erin McMichael
    • 6
  • David S. Addison
    • 7
  • Kristina L. Williams
    • 8
  • Michael G. Frick
    • 8
  • Stefanie Ouellette
    • 9
  • Anne B. Meylan
    • 10
  • Matthew H. Godfrey
    • 11
  • Sally R. Murphy
    • 12
  • Campbell J. Nairn
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Daniel B. Warnell School of Forestry and Natural ResourcesUniversity of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  2. 2.Georgia Department of Natural ResourcesBrunswickUSA
  3. 3.Department of BiologyUniversity of Central FloridaOrlandoUSA
  4. 4.Mote Marine LaboratorySarasotaUSA
  5. 5.Loggerhead Marinelife CenterJuno BeachUSA
  6. 6.Florida Fish and Wildlife Cooperative Research UnitUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  7. 7.Conservancy of Southwest FloridaNaplesUSA
  8. 8.Caretta Research ProjectSavannahUSA
  9. 9.Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation ProgramNova Southeastern University Oceanographic CenterDaniaUSA
  10. 10.Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation CommissionFish and Wildlife Research InstituteSt. PetersburgUSA
  11. 11.North Carolina Wildlife Resources CommissionBeaufortUSA
  12. 12.South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (retired)SheldonUSA

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