Already too late? Massive trade in Indian star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) might have wiped out its phylogeographic differentiation

In: Amphibia-Reptilia
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  • 1 Museum of Zoology, Senckenberg Dresden, A. B. Meyer Building, 01109 Dresden, Germany
  • | 2 , 15/1 Dolosbage Road, Gampola, Sri Lanka
  • | 3 Pakistan Museum of Natural History, Garden Avenue, Shakarparian, Islamabad-44000, Pakistan
  • | 4 , Turtle Island, Turtle Conservation and Research Center, Am Katzelbach 98, 8054 Graz, Austria
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Geochelone elegans is one of the most heavily traded tortoise species of the world, and confiscated tortoises are frequently released into the wild, without knowledge about their origin. Using for the first time samples from Pakistan and Sri Lanka, we examined phylogeographic differentiation of G. elegans using 2289 bp of mitochondrial DNA. We found weak intraspecific differentiation without a clear geographic pattern. We suggest that natural phylogeographic differentiation may have been already destroyed by massive releases of confiscated non-native tortoises. The presence of two distinct clades on Sri Lanka, however, could also be the result of a natural range expansion of a mainland lineage into the distribution range of a lineage endemic to Sri Lanka during Pleistocene low sea level stands. We propose that a systematic screening of the genetic differentiation of wild G. elegans should be conducted across its entire distribution range to provide a sound basis for the relocation of confiscated tortoises.

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