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Molecular variation and population structure in critically endangered Turks and Caicos Rock Iguanas: identifying intraspecific conservation units and revising subspecific taxonomy

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Abstract

For species living in naturally fragmented habitats, the identification of conservation units is particularly challenging. Turks and Caicos Rock Iguanas, Cyclura carinata, are endemic to the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). These Critically Endangered lizards inhabit less than 5% of their historic range. A complete study of the geographic distribution of genetic variation is now particularly important for this species due to the onset of translocation programs. To fill this knowledge gap, we genotyped 280 individuals from 30 sampling locations across the species range were genotyped at 29 microsatellite loci, and variation within the mitochondrial ND4 gene was assessed by sequencing, or the use of PCR-RFLPs. A protein profiling analysis of femoral pore secretions was also conducted on a subset of samples. Microsatellites suggest that a recent, common population ancestry, or a simple reduction in gene flow, cannot account for the significant differences detected between a western and an eastern lineage within the TCI (Fct = 0.202, p ≪ 0.01). The same pattern was confirmed by mitochondrial DNA sequence, significantly distinguishing between the western and eastern haplotypes (Φct = 0.96, p ≪ 0.01). Protein profiling provides further support, differentiating a western and eastern lineage. Implications of these results are that at least two evolutionarily significant units (ESUs) can be recognized across this taxon’s geographic range. Multiple management units, within each ESU, can also be defined. Future management planning for C. carinata should consider these evolutionarily independent lineages.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank Dr. Russello and two anonymous reviewers for insightful comments that contributed to the significant improvement of this manuscript. We thank the Turks and Caicos National Trust (TCNT), which provided financial support for fieldwork and sample collection through a grant from the U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Ken Wiley provided logistic assistance and coordinated travel arrangements in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources of the Turks and Caicos Islands Government provided transportation to many of the uninhabited cays. Kelly Bradley and Rachel Hayward assisted with fieldwork and sample collection in the TCI, and Joe Wasileski, Steve Connors, and John Bendon provided assistance on Booby Cay; all deserve special thanks. Laboratory work was conducted at and supported by San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research, Mississippi State University (MSU), University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and Utah Valley University. Shackouls Honors College, Mississippi EPSCOR, and North East Mississippi Daily Journal provided support for undergraduate researchers at MSU.

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Correspondence to Giuliano Colosimo.

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Mark E. Welch and Giuliano Colosimo contributed equally to the writing of this manuscript.

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Welch, M.E., Colosimo, G., Pasachnik, S.A. et al. Molecular variation and population structure in critically endangered Turks and Caicos Rock Iguanas: identifying intraspecific conservation units and revising subspecific taxonomy. Conserv Genet 18, 479–493 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10592-016-0922-6

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