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Effects of landscape features and demographic history on the genetic structure of Testudo marginata populations in the southern Peloponnese and Sardinia




Testudo marginata, the largest European land tortoise, is suffering habitat degradation and destruction. Some populations, in markedly degraded habitats, are characterized by divergent morphotypes. However, the evolutionary significance of these morphotypes is of debate. Using 11 polymorphic microsatellites, we studied: (1) marginated tortoises from Sardinia that display a divergent morphotype – this population was potentially introduced from Greece; and (2) an area in the southern Peloponnese that includes a small and degraded zone in which marginated tortoises are dwarf. Genetic analyses run without any a priori assignment clearly acknowledge the specimens sampled in the territory of the dwarf form as a single group whilst Sardinian specimens are clustered with other specimens from the northern part of the area sampled in Greece. Demographic analyses suggest that Sardinian tortoises originated recently from some of the populations sampled in the northern part of the area sampled in Greece. Over locations sampled in Greece, a landscape-genetic analysis allowed us to detect potential landscape features that may reduce gene flow between the dwarf form territory and surrounding areas. Our results suggest that the territory of the dwarf form is particularly propitious for marginated tortoises and that conservation regulations in Greece should be reinforced to protect this area from increasing impact of human activities changing from traditional agriculture to mechanization and extensive use of chemicals. © 2011 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2012, 105, 591–606.

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