Conservation Genetics

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 207–220 | Cite as

Origins of softshell turtles in Hawaii with implications for conservation

  • Caroline M. Dong
  • Tag N. Engstrom
  • Robert C. Thomson
Research Article


Non-native species have the potential to induce large-scale ecological changes that threaten native ecosystem biodiversity, particularly on islands. However, aside from the most conspicuous invasive taxa, the majority of non-natives receive relatively little scientific attention making it difficult to predict the severity of their impact. In addition to ecological and natural history data, genetic approaches can help address the status of non-natives, particularly for introductions that involve multiple sympatric and morphologically cryptic species to clarify their taxonomic identities and geographic origins. We used a molecular systematic approach to investigate softshell turtles (family: Trionychidae) introduced to the Hawaiian Islands in the late 1800s: Palea steindachneri and Pelodiscus sinensis. In light of extended importation and inter-island dispersal, recent taxonomic revisions in P. sinensis, unknown ecosystem impacts in Hawaii, and native range conservation concerns, a comprehensive characterization of the populations in Hawaii was warranted. Field surveying efforts revealed a distribution markedly different from the historical one, with the current ranges of P. steindachneri limited to Kauai and that of Pelodiscus limited to Oahu. Analysis of the 12S rRNA, ND4, and Cyt b gene regions revealed two species of the Pelodiscus complex (P. sinensis sensu stricto and P. maackii) and low genetic diversity in P. steindachneri. These results suggest the importance of continued study to assess impacts on Hawaiian species with the aim of developing management policies to either protect them as ‘assurance colonies’ for the declining native populations or alternatively to support the control and eradication efforts aimed at these introduced aquatic predators.


Introduced species Molecular phylogeny mtDNA Pelodiscus Palea Trionychidae 



We thank Molly Hagemann (Bishop Museum) for facilitating a tissue sample loan and access to specimen records, and Robert Creamer and Keevin Miniami for donating specimens. Áki Laruson, Van Wishingrad, and Amber Wright provided valuable assistance in the field. We also thank Nicolai Barca, Don Heacock, Keevin Miniami, Chris Radford, Ted Shanks, and Shannon Smith and for helpful correspondence regarding softshell turtle sightings. Anthony Barley, Brenden Holland, and Amber Wright provided helpful comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by a Hampton and Meredith Carson Fellowship (to C.M.D.) through the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Caroline M. Dong
    • 1
  • Tag N. Engstrom
    • 2
  • Robert C. Thomson
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of HawaiiHonoluluUSA
  2. 2.Biological SciencesCalifornia State UniversityChicoUSA

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