A genetic survey of heavily exploited, endangered turtles: caveats on the conservation value of trade animals

Authors

  • J. J. Fong,

    1. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
    2. Evolutionary Genomics Department, Joint Genome Institute, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
    3. Department of Natural Sciences, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • J. F. Parham,

    1. Evolutionary Genomics Department, Joint Genome Institute, Walnut Creek, CA, USA
    2. Department of Herpetology, California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, CA, USA
    3. Museum of Paleontology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • H. Shi,

    1. Department of Biology, Hainan Normal University; Hainan, Haikou, China
    Search for more papers by this author
  • B. L. Stuart,

    1. Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California at Berkeley, Berkeley, CA, USA
    2. The Field Museum, Department of Zoology, Division of Amphibians and Reptiles, Chicago, IL, USA
    Search for more papers by this author
  • R. L. Carter

    1. Department of Natural Sciences, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA, USA
    Search for more papers by this author

Correspondence
Jonathan J. Fong, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, University of California at Berkeley, Valley Life Sciences Building, Berkeley, CA 94720-3160, USA.
Email: j_fong@berkeley.edu

Abstract

Asian turtles face an extinction crisis, and so it is imperative that systematists accurately determine species diversity in order to guide conservation strategies effectively. We surveyed mitochondrial and nuclear DNA (mtDNA and nuDNA) variation of the heavily exploited Mauremys mutica complex, a clade of Asian turtles that contains the endangered M. mutica from Japan, Taiwan, China and Vietnam, and the critically endangered Mauremys annamensis from central Vietnam. We discovered extensive mtDNA and nuDNA variation among samples that did not correspond to the currently recognized taxonomy. Both nuDNA and mtDNA data suggest that M. mutica is paraphyletic with respect to M. annamensis. Surprisingly, M. annamensis exhibits a previously unknown mtDNA structure in the form of two clades that are paraphyletic to M. mutica. These data reveal that the currently recognized taxonomy of the mutica complex does not reflect the genetic diversity of our samples. Unfortunately, many conservation-oriented captive-breeding efforts for turtles are also based on trade samples such as the ones studied here. These efforts include plans to breed trade-rescued individuals and release their progeny into the wild. Because our genetic survey reveals that the taxonomic identity of these samples does not reflect genetic diversity, we raise serious questions about the efficacy of these programs. In order to address conservation issues and provide more accurate estimates of evolutionary lineages within Mauremys, we recommend continued surveys for wild populations of the mutica complex to provide new genetic material and additional distributional data, attempts to extract DNA from historic museum specimens and a shift in conservation focus to in situ preservation of wild populations and associated habitat.

Ancillary