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Loggerhead turtle eggshells as a source of maternal nuclear genomic DNA for population genetic studies


Brian M. Shamblin, Fax: (706) 542 8356;


Tagging studies on nesting beaches are commonly used to estimate nesting frequency, remigration interval and nesting population size for marine turtle rookeries. Estimates of these demographic parameters from tagging projects may be biased because of the small scale of tagging efforts relative to female nest site fidelity and the logistical difficulty of intercepting all nesting females. Therefore, alternative and supplemental means of individual identification of nesting females are required. We demonstrate that maternal nuclear microsatellite DNA can be isolated from unincubated eggshells of the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) through comparison of DNA extracted from 59 eggs collected within 15 h of oviposition and DNA derived from skin samples from respective nesting females. Scorable microsatellite genotypes were produced in 897 of 994 (90.2%) single-locus egg amplifications attempted. Among eggs from known females, 730 of 748 (97.6%) single-locus, egg-derived genotypes matched the respective skin-derived genotypes. Allelic dropout was the most common type of error, followed by the presence of nonmaternal, presumably paternal, alleles. Genotypes derived from unincubated eggshells permit individual assignment of nests and therefore demographic parameter estimates for loggerhead turtle nesting populations, despite genotyping errors that require further optimization. Although sampling unincubated eggs is destructive, this technique is noninvasive to nesting females and is applicable in marine turtle population genetics studies when individual resolution is required but direct interception of nesting females is undesirable or logistically infeasible.