Genetic variation among sea turtle life stages and species suggests connectivity among ocean basins
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Genetic variation among sea turtle life stages and species suggests connectivity among ocean basins

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  • Journal Title:
    Ecology and Evolution
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    Regional genetic differentiation of mitochondrial lineages occurs in migratory species with natal philopatry such as sea turtles. However, early juvenile dispersal represents a key opportunity for gene flow and colonization of new regions through founder events, making it an important yet under‐studied life stage. To assess connectivity among sea turtle life stages and ocean basins, we sequenced mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) fragments from 35 juveniles sampled in the Gulf of Mexico from the rarely observed dispersal stage across three species: green turtles (Chelonia mydas; n = 30), hawksbills (Eretmochelys imbricata; n = 3), and loggerheads (Caretta caretta; n = 2). We estimated green turtle rookery contributions using a many‐to‐many Bayesian mixed stock analysis that incorporated dispersal probabilities based on rookery size and transport via ocean currents. We assembled a gene tree including 709 distinct mtDNA control region haplotypes from the literature for all seven extant sea turtle species to assess gaps in life‐stage data across ocean basins, as well as contextualize the lineages we sampled from dispersing juveniles. Our results indicate a high likelihood that green turtles sampled in the Gulf of Mexico originated from rookeries along the coast of Mexico, with smaller contributions from Costa Rica and Suriname. The gene tree analysis yielded species‐level relationships consistent with those presented previously, while intra‐species relationships between lineages and ocean basins differed, particularly within loggerhead and green turtle clades. Our results highlight the lack of genetic data from juvenile sea turtles, especially the early dispersal stage, and the potential for these data to answer broader questions of connectivity and diversification across species and lineages.
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    Ecology and Evolution, 12(11)
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    CC BY
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