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J Hered. 2011 Jan-Feb;102(1):29-37. doi: 10.1093/jhered/esq096. Epub 2010 Aug 30.

Population genetic structure of Aldabra giant tortoises.

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Institute of Zoology, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


Evolution of population structure on islands is the result of physical processes linked to volcanism, orogenic events, changes in sea level, as well as habitat variation. We assessed patterns of genetic structure in the giant tortoise of the Aldabra atoll, where previous ecological studies suggested population subdivisions as a result of landscape discontinuity due to unsuitable habitat and island separation. Analysis of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences and allelic variation at 8 microsatellite loci were conducted on tortoises sampled in 3 locations on the 2 major islands of Aldabra. We found no variation in mtDNA sequences. This pattern corroborated earlier work supporting the occurrence of a founding event during the last interglacial period and a further reduction in genetic variability during historical time. On the other hand, significant population structure recorded at nuclear loci suggested allopatric divergence possibly due to geographical barriers among islands and ecological partitions hindering tortoise movements within islands. This is the first attempt to study the population genetics of Aldabra tortoises, which are now at carrying capacity in an isolated terrestrial ecosystem where ecological factors appear to have a strong influence on population dynamics.

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