Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 1467–1477 | Cite as

Genetic composition, population structure and phylogeography of the loggerhead sea turtle: colonization hypothesis for the Brazilian rookeries

  • E. C. Reis
  • L. S. Soares
  • S. M. Vargas
  • F. R. Santos
  • R. J. Young
  • K. A. Bjorndal
  • A. B. Bolten
  • G. Lôbo-HajduEmail author
Research Article


The loggerhead sea turtle, Caretta caretta, is the most common species of sea turtle nesting in Brazil and is listed as endangered by the IUCN. Our study characterizes the genetic structure of loggerheads in Brazil based on mitochondrial DNA control region variability and presents a hypothesis for the colonization of Brazilian rookeries. We analyzed 329 samples from Brazilian rookeries and an oceanic foraging ground, and we compared our results with previously published data for other loggerhead populations. Brazilian rookeries had four haplotypes, none of which have been reported for rookeries outside Brazil. Six haplotypes were found in the foraging aggregation. The presence of the CC-A4 haplotype at all sampled sites and the low nucleotide diversity suggest a common origin for all rookeries, with CC-A4 being the ancestral haplotype of the Brazilian populations. The occurrence of three haplotypes in the foraging aggregation that are known only from rookeries outside of Brazil is consistent with the transoceanic migratory behavior of loggerheads. Our results indicated that the colonization of Brazilian rookeries probably occurred from the southern USA stock. This recent colonization most likely followed a north to south route along the Brazilian coastline, influenced by the Brazilian warm current. Our results further suggest the existence of two genetic population units of loggerheads in Brazil and corroborate natal homing behavior in loggerheads.


Conservation genetics Caretta caretta Mitochondrial DNA Population structure Phylogeography Mixed stock analysis 



We are grateful to CENPES/PETROBRAS (Centro de Pesquisas da PETROBRAS) for supporting the “Mamíferos e Quelônios Marinhos” project, which included this study. The Projeto TAMAR-ICMBio staff collected the samples and provided the necessary field assistance. We acknowledge CAPES, PROCIÊNCIA-SR2-UERJ, FAPERJ and CNPq/MCT for fellowships and grants. The present study followed all ethical guidelines and legal requirements of Brazil for sampling an endangered species.

Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • E. C. Reis
    • 1
  • L. S. Soares
    • 2
  • S. M. Vargas
    • 3
  • F. R. Santos
    • 3
  • R. J. Young
    • 4
  • K. A. Bjorndal
    • 5
  • A. B. Bolten
    • 5
  • G. Lôbo-Hajdu
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Departamento de GenéticaUniversidade do Estado do Rio de JaneiroMaracanã, Rio de JaneiroBrazil
  2. 2.Fundação Centro Brasileiro de Proteção e Pesquisa das Tartarugas MarinhasProjeto TAMAR-ICMBioRio Vermelho, SalvadorBrazil
  3. 3.Departamento de Biologia GeralUniversidade Federal de Minas GeraisBelo HorizonteBrazil
  4. 4.Departamento de Ciências BiológicasPontifícia Universidade Católica de Minas GeraisCoração Eucarístico, Belo HorizonteBrazil
  5. 5.Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research and Department of BiologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA

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