Evolutionary history of green turtle populations, Chelonia mydas, from French Polynesia highlights the putative existence of a glacial refugium

  • Emilie BoissinEmail author
  • Valentina Neglia
  • Faimano Boulet Colomb D’hauteserre
  • Miri Tatarata
  • Serge Planes
Original Paper


Mapping the distribution of genetic diversity of species over their geographic range is crucial from a conservation perspective. We investigated nesting populations of an iconic and endangered species, Chelonia mydas, the green sea turtle, in French Polynesia. Sequences of the mtDNA control region of 97 specimens were analyzed using Bayesian phylogeny reconstruction, Bayesian dating, and skyline plots. Samples from French Polynesia belonged to four of the nine recognized Indo-Pacific lineages, with two lineages (III and IV) recognized as widespread and two other lineages (V and VI) geographically restricted to the South Pacific. More than half of the specimens belonged to the geographically restricted lineages, and suggested the existence of two South Pacific refugia during glacial periods, a western one (represented by lineage V) and an eastern one (represented by lineage VI), herein revealed from French Polynesia. Expansions of populations were recovered in most of the lineages and were all dated after the Last Glacial Maximum, similarly to the Atlantic populations of C. mydas. Finally, as the likely existence of a glacial refugium near French Polynesia matches a previously published predicted refugium under future climatic conditions, this makes the area particularly promising for the conservation of green sea turtle populations.


Phylogeography Microsatellites Mitochondrial lineages South Central Pacific Population expansion Last Glacial Maximum 



We are grateful to three anonymous reviewers for their comments that greatly helped to improve the manuscript. We are grateful to G. Iwankow for help with preparation of Fig. 2 and to J. Almany for English corrections. EB was supported by a European Marie Curie fellowship MC-CIG-618480.

Funding information

This study was funded by Marie Curie Fellowship (grant number MC-CIG-618480).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed by the authors.

Sampling and field studies

All necessary permits for sampling and observational field studies have been obtained by the authors from the competent authorities and are mentioned in the acknowledgments, if applicable.

Data availability

The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are available in the GenBank repository (MH893824-MH893825) and NOAA SWFSC CmP (haplotype number CmP21.1 and CmP249.1 ).

Supplementary material

12526_2019_1001_MOESM1_ESM.docx (26 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 25.8 kb)
12526_2019_1001_MOESM2_ESM.docx (182 kb)
ESM 2 (DOCX 181 kb)


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.PSL Research University, EPHE-UPVD-CNRS, USR 3278 CRIOBEPerpignanFrance
  2. 2.Laboratoire d’Excellence « CORAIL »Papetoai, MooreaFrench Polynesia
  3. 3.Direction de l’Environnement (DIREN) de Polynesie FrançaisePapeeteFrench Polynesia

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