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Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata), which are distributed throughout the world's oceans, have undergone drastic declines across their range, largely due to anthropogenic factors. Assessing sizes, genetic variability and structure of their populations at global and regional levels is critical to the development of conservation management strategies. Here, nuclear and mitochondrial markers were used to analyse patterns of parentage and population structure in hawksbill turtles in United Arab Emirates (UAE) waters, utilizing samples from two life stages (hatchlings and juveniles), and to compare the UAE population with neighboring populations. Weak genetic differentiation was detected between juveniles and hatchlings and between the nesting sites of Dubai and Sir Bu Nair. Parentage analysis suggested that only 53 females and 74–80 males contributed to the hatchlings from 67 nests across three nesting sites in UAE (Dubai, Sir Bu Nair, Abu Dhabi). No females were identified as nesting in more than one location. In Dubai and Abu Dhabi, single paternity was the norm (75%), whereas on Sir Bu Nair, multiple paternity was detected in the majority of nests (67%). Polygyny was also frequently detected on Sir Bu Nair (15% of the overall number of males), but not in the other nesting sites. Comparison of the UAE population with published data from other populations suggests that population structure exists both within the Gulf and between the Gulf and Indian Ocean populations, and that the UAE population has lower genetic variability than the Seychelles population. Finally, the data suggest that the UAE population, and the Gulf population overall, experienced a bottleneck/founder event. The observed overall low genetic variability, evidence of population structure in the Gulf, and strong differentiation between the Gulf and the Indian Ocean populations, raises concerns about the sustainability of this species in this near-enclosed basin. These results highlight the need for regional collaboration in the development of management measures for the long-term conservation of this Critically Endangered species.
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