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Keywords:

  • Galápagos land iguanas;
  • microsatellites;
  • population management;
  • population structure

Abstract

The Galápagos land iguanas (genus Conolophus) have faced significant anthropogenic disturbances since the 17th century, leading to severe reduction of some populations and the extinction of others. Conservation activities, including the repatriation of captive-bred animals to depleted areas, have been ongoing since the late 1970s, but genetic information has not been extensively incorporated. Here we use nine species-specific microsatellite loci of 703 land iguanas from the six islands where the species occur today to characterize the genetic diversity within, and the levels of genetic differentiation among, current populations as well as test previous hypotheses about accidental translocations associated with early conservation efforts. Our analyses indicate that (i) five populations of iguanas represent distinct conservation units (one of them being the recently discovered rosada form) and could warrant species status, (ii) some individuals from North Seymour previously assumed to be from the natural Baltra population appear related to both Isabela and Santa Cruz populations, and (iii) the five different management units exhibit considerably different levels of intrapopulation genetic diversity, with the Plaza Sur and Santa Fe populations particularly low. Although the initial captive breeding programmes, coupled with intensive efforts to eradicate introduced species, saved several land iguana populations from extinction, our molecular results provide objective data for improving continuing in situ species survival plans and population management for this spectacular and emblematic reptile.