Unexpectedly low rangewide population genetic structure of the imperiled eastern box turtle Terrapene c. carolina

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Abstract

Rangewide studies of genetic parameters can elucidate patterns and processes that operate only over large geographic scales. Herein, we present a rangewide population genetic assessment of the eastern box turtle Terrapene c. carolina, a species that is in steep decline across its range. To inform conservation planning for this species, we address the hypothesis that disruptions to demographic and movement parameters associated with the decline of the eastern box turtle has resulted in distinctive genetic signatures in the form of low genetic diversity, high population structuring, and decreased gene flow. We used microsatellite genotype data from (n = 799) individuals from across the species range to perform two Bayesian population assignment approaches, two methods for comparing historical and contemporary migration among populations, an evaluation of isolation by distance, and a method for detecting barriers to gene flow. Both Bayesian methods of population assignment indicated that there are two populations rangewide, both of which have maintained high levels of genetic diversity (H O = 0.756). Evidence of isolation by distance was detected in this species at a spatial scale of 300-500 km, and the Appalachian Mountains were identified as the primary barrier to gene flow across the species range. We also found evidence for historical but not contemporary migration between populations. Our prediction of many, highly structured populations across the range was not supported. This may point to cryptic contemporary gene flow, which might in turn be explained by the presence of rare transients in populations. However these data may be influenced by historical signatures of genetic connectivity because individuals of this species can be long-lived. © 2014 Kimble et al.

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Kimble, S. J. A., Rhodes, O. E., & Williams, R. N. (2014). Unexpectedly low rangewide population genetic structure of the imperiled eastern box turtle Terrapene c. carolina. PLoS ONE, 9(3). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0092274

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