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Keywords:

  • tuatara;
  • minisatellite DNA;
  • kinship;
  • evolutionary genetics

Abstract

Tuatara represent the last surviving member of the order Rhynchocephalia, a group of reptiles the members of which first appeared in the fossil record 200 million years ago. We report the existence of extensive minisatellite DNA variation in island populations of tuatara, as revealed by the use of heterologous DNA probes and compare this variation to that found in other vertebrates. Patterns of minisatellite variation within and among populations of tuatara on the Taranga and Marotere Islands off the coast of New Zealand are detailed. Individuals from West Bay and South Cove on Motumuka Island show higher levels of bandsharing than that recorded between randomly sampled individuals from the same island. We suggest that these populations comprise a proportion of closely related individuals and that populations within islands are genetically structured. Moreover, we identified individuals which have high levels of bandsharing with substantial proportions of the sampled population, suggesting close kinship. A pairwise, inter-island comparison of individuals from Motumuka, Whatupuke and Mauimua Islands, reveals significant differences in distribution of restriction fragments in minisatellite DNA profiles.