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ESR prepress abstract   -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01120

Evaluation of potential information available from spot patterns and carapace abnormalities of an endangered freshwater turtle Clemmys guttata

Lucille J. Brown, Christina M. Davy*

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Many of the world’s contemporary species of turtle are extinct or threatened with extinction due to habitat loss, increases in anthropogenic sources of mortality, and poaching (illegal collection). The slow life-history strategy of most turtle species magnifies the effects of poaching because the loss of even a few mature individuals can impact population growth. Returning poached turtles to their population of origin, where possible, can mitigate these effects, but identifying the origin of these individuals can be challenging. We hypothesized that spot patterns might allow assignment of endangered spotted turtles Clemmys guttata to their population of origin. We characterized and compared spot patterns from carapace photographs of 126 individuals from 10 sites. To explore other types of information these photographs might provide, we also documented carapacial scute abnormalities, and quantified their association with genetic diversity and latitude. Regrettably, spot pattern similarity was not higher within populations than among populations, and did not accurately differentiate populations. Carapacial scute abnormalities occurred in 82% of turtles and were not correlated with estimates of neutral genetic diversity. Abnormalities were positively correlated with latitude, implicating thermal stress during the early stages of development in the generation of some scute deformities. However, this relationship became non-significant when line abnormalities were excluded from the data, suggesting a different primary cause for the more severe scute deformities. Further research should continue to investigate the drivers of these deformities, as monitoring shifts in the frequency of scute deformities may provide relevant information for conservation and recovery of endangered turtles.