Conservation Genetics

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 649–659 | Cite as

Are captive tortoises a reservoir for conservation? An assessment of genealogical affiliation of captive Gopherus agassizii to local, wild populations

Research Article

Abstract

The conservation of tortoises poses a unique situation because several threatened species are commonly kept as pets within their native ranges. Thus, there is potential for captive populations to be a reservoir for repatriation efforts. We assess the utility of captive populations of the threatened Agassiz’s desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) for recovery efforts based on genetic affinity to local areas. We collected samples from 130 captive desert tortoises from three desert communities: two in California (Ridgecrest and Joshua Tree) and the Desert Tortoise Conservation Center (Las Vegas) in Nevada. We tested all samples for 25 short tandem repeats and sequenced 1,109 bp of the mitochondrial genome. We compared captive genotypes to a database of 1,258 Gopherus samples, including 657 wild caught G. agassizii spanning the full range of the species. We conducted population assignment tests to determine the genetic origins of the captive individuals. For our total sample set, only 44 % of captive individuals were assigned to local populations based on genetic units derived from the reference database. One individual from Joshua Tree, California, was identified as being a Morafka’s desert tortoise, G. morafkai, a cryptic species which is not native to the Mojave Desert. Our data suggest that captive desert tortoises kept within the native range of G. agassizii cannot be presumed to have a genealogical affiliation to wild tortoises in their geographic proximity. Precautions should be taken before considering the release of captive tortoises into the wild as a management tool for recovery.

Keywords

Captivity Conservation Genetics Gopherus Repatriation Testudinidae Translocation 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank J. Novak and T. Thorson for supporting the health clinics through their hospitals and appreciate the assistance of T. Bailey, K. Anderson, and J. Mack in sampling captive tortoises. M. McDermott at the DTCC made arrangements for sampling. Z. Brown assisted with sample processing and K. Ross and Z. Wolfenburger contributed to the data preparation. B. Sigafus helped with manuscript preparation, and S. Jones, A. Vandergast, and two anonymous reviewers provided constructive reviews. R. Murphy and A. McLuckie contributed significantly to the reference database of Mojave tortoise samples. M. Forstner and A. Fujii at Texas State University provided the reference database of Texas tortoise samples. We obtained Mexican samples through a multinational, collaborative effort including C. Meléndez and M. Villa of Comisión de Ecología y Desarrollo Sustentable del Estado de Sonora (CEDES) and F. R. Méndez de la Cruz, Instituto de Biologìa, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM). Special thanks go to the dedicated field crew that volunteered to make this possible, as well as M. Vaughn, R. Murphy, A. Karl, M. Brown, L. Wendland, C. Schwalbe, and P. Rosen. Permits for Mexican samples were facilitated by Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales (SEMARNAT). Funding and support for sample collection was provided by Tucson Herpetological Society, Desert Tortoise Council, Royal Ontario Museum, Canada, Arizona Game and Fish Department, University of Florida, University of Arizona, Department of Defense (Army, Marine Corps), and the U.S. Geological Survey. Tortoise handling protocols were approved by the University of Arizona (IACUC 09-138). Any use of trade, product, or firm names is for descriptive purposes only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Arizona Genetics CoreTucsonUSA
  2. 2.U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research CenterRiversideUSA

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