Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 1063–1081 | Cite as

Genetic diversity and taxonomy: a reassessment of species designation in tuatara (Sphenodon: Reptilia)

  • Jennifer M. HayEmail author
  • Stephen D. Sarre
  • David M. Lambert
  • Fred W. Allendorf
  • Charles H. Daugherty
Research Article


The identification of species boundaries for allopatric populations is important for setting conservation priorities and can affect conservation management decisions. Tuatara (Sphenodon) are the only living members of the reptile order Sphenodontia and are restricted to islands around New Zealand that are free of introduced mammals. We present new data of microsatellite DNA diversity and substantially increased mtDNA sequence for all 26 sampled tuatara populations. We also re-evaluate existing allozyme data for those populations, and together use them to examine the taxonomic status of those populations. Although one could interpret the data to indicate different taxonomic designations, we conclude that, contrary to current taxonomy, Sphenodon is best described as a single species that contains distinctive and important geographic variants. We also examine amounts of genetic variation within populations and discuss the implications of these findings for the conservation management of this iconic taxon.


Microsatellite DNA Mitochondrial DNA Allozymes Phylogenetics Taxonomy Conservation 



We thank Niccy Aitken and members of the Sarre and Lambert labs for technical and analytical assistance and reviewers for helpful comments on the manuscript. JMH and this research were funded by a New Zealand Foundation for Research Science and Technology Postdoctoral Fellowship, and subsequently a Marsden Fund grant to DML and the Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution.

Supplementary material

10592_2009_9952_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (141 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 140 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jennifer M. Hay
    • 1
    Email author
  • Stephen D. Sarre
    • 2
  • David M. Lambert
    • 3
  • Fred W. Allendorf
    • 4
  • Charles H. Daugherty
    • 5
  1. 1.Allan Wilson Centre for Molecular Ecology and Evolution at Institute of Molecular BioSciencesMassey UniversityAucklandNew Zealand
  2. 2.Institute for Applied EcologyUniversity of CanberraCanberraAustralia
  3. 3.Griffith School of EnvironmentGriffith UniversityNathanAustralia
  4. 4.Division of Biological SciencesUniversity of MontanaMissoulaUSA
  5. 5.School of Biological SciencesVictoria University of WellingtonWellingtonNew Zealand

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