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Evolutionary distinctiveness of the endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle

Naturevolume 352pages709711 (1991) | Download Citation

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Abstract

THE endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempi) nests almost exclusively at a single locality in the western Gulf of Mexico, whereas the olive ridley (L. olivacea) nests globally in warm oceans. Morphological similarities between kempi and olivacea, and a geographical distribution that "... makes no sense at all under modern conditions of climate and geography"1 raise questions about the degree of evolutionary divergence between these taxa. Analysis of mitochondrial (mt) DNA restriction sites shows that Kemp's ridley is distinct from the olive ridley in matriarchal phylogeny, and that the two are sister taxa with respect to other marine turtles. Separation of olive and the Kemp's ridley lineages may date to formation of the Isthmus of Panama, whereas the global spread of the olive ridley lineage occurred recently. In contrast to recent examples in which molecular genetic assessments challenged systematic assignments underlying conservation programmes2–6, our mtDNA data corroborate the taxonomy of an endangered form.

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Affiliations

  1. Department of Genetics, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, 30602, USA

    • Brian W. Bowen
    •  & John C. Avise
  2. Florida Marine Research Institute, 100 Eighth Avenue S.E., St Petersburg, Florida, 33701–5095, USA

    • Anne B. Meylan

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https://doi.org/10.1038/352709a0

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