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Endangered Species Research

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ESR 5:37-44 (2008)  -  DOI:

Composition of Hawaiian green turtle foraging aggregations: mtDNA evidence for a distinct regional population

Peter H. Dutton1,*, George H. Balazs2, Robin A. LeRoux1, Shawn K. K. Murakawa2, Patricia Zarate3, Laura Sarti Martínez4

1NOAA Fisheries, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, 8604 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla, California 92037, USA
2NOAA Fisheries, Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center, 2570 Dole Street, Honolulu, Hawaii 96822-2396, USA
3Charles Darwin Foundation, Santa Cruz, Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
4CONANP, Camino al Ajusco No. 200, Col. Jardines en la Montaña, Tlalpan, México DF CP 14210, Mexico

ABSTRACT: To examine the stock composition of Hawaiian foraging populations and evaluate current life-history hypotheses, mtDNA control region sequences from immature and adult green turtles that forage around the Hawaiian Islands were compared to potential source nesting populations across the Pacific. We examined the stock composition of the feeding ground (FG) populations at 5 index sites across the Hawaiian Archipelago, as well as animals stranded in areas outside these index sites. Six haplotypes, based on mtDNA sequences, were observed among the 788 green turtles sampled around the Hawaiian Islands. Stock mixture analysis shows that the Hawaiian FG populations comprise one genetic stock derived from the nesting population at French Frigate Shoals (FFS), based on a mean estimate of 99.9% from FFS as opposed to other potential source stocks. We identified only 3 turtles with haplotypes not found at FFS, indicating that Hawaiian FGs might occasionally, albeit rarely, be visited by animals from rookeries outside the Hawaiian Archipelago, both in the eastern and western Pacific. These findings lead us to conclude that the numerous foraging aggregations around the Hawaiian Islands can be considered part of a distinct regional population for management. The finding that FGs scattered across a distance of over 2400 km belong to one genetic stock is unique among sea turtles, and allows Hawaiian green turtles to be assessed separately from other Pacific stocks with respect to risk. We explore the unique population ecology of Hawaiian green turtles with reference to the complex life history of this marine megaherbivore.

KEY WORDS: Population genetics · Control region · Mitochondrial DNA · mtDNA · Sea turtles

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Cite this article as: Dutton PH, Balazs GH, LeRoux RA, Murakawa SKK, Zarate P, Martínez LS (2008) Composition of Hawaiian green turtle foraging aggregations: mtDNA evidence for a distinct regional population. Endang Species Res 5:37-44.

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