Marine Biology

, Volume 147, Issue 6, pp 1449–1457 | Cite as

Population structure and genetic diversity in green turtles nesting at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, based on mitochondrial DNA control region sequences

  • Karen A. BjorndalEmail author
  • Alan B. Bolten
  • Sebastian Troëng
Research Article


The green turtle (Chelonia mydas) nesting population at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, is the largest nesting aggregation in the Atlantic, by at least an order of magnitude. Previous mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) surveys based on limited sampling (n = 41) indicated low genetic diversity and low gene flow with other Caribbean nesting colonies. Furthermore, a survey of nuclear DNA diversity invoked the possibility of substructure within the Tortuguero rookery. To evaluate these characteristics, mtDNA control region sequences were determined for green turtles nesting at Tortuguero in 2001 (n = 157) and 2002 (n = 235). The increased sample revealed three additional haplotypes; five haplotypes are now known for Tortuguero female green turtles. Analyses of molecular variance indicated that there was no significant spatial population structure along the 30-km nesting beach. In addition, no temporal population structure was detected either between the two nesting seasons or within the nesting season. As a result of the larger sample size and additional haplotypes, estimates of genetic separation among Caribbean nesting colonies have changed and the concordance of phylogenetic and phylogeographic patterns reported in the past for green turtles in the Greater Caribbean has weakened. The five haplotypes from Tortuguero represent 36% of the haplotypes identified in green turtle nesting aggregations in the Greater Caribbean and 17% of the haplotypes known to occur in nesting or foraging aggregations in the Greater Caribbean. Haplotype diversity (0.16) and nucleotide diversity (0.0034) for the Tortuguero population are substantially lower than those for the combined rookeries in the Greater Caribbean (0.44 and 0.0078, respectively). Although comprehensive evaluation of regional genetic diversity requires nuclear DNA data, our study indicates that conserving genetic diversity in Caribbean green turtles will require careful management of the smaller rookeries in addition to the Tortuguero rookery.


Haplotype Frequency Green Turtle Nest Season Natal Homing Nest Beach 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are grateful to the staff and volunteers of the Caribbean Conservation Corporation who collected the tissue samples at Tortuguero, Costa Rica, in particular Emma Harrison and Catalina Reyes who supervised sample collection in the field, and to Ginger Clark, director of the Genetics Analysis Lab at the University of Florida, who oversaw the determination of genetic sequences. We thank Brian Bowen for constructive comments on the manuscript; Peter Eliazar for assistance with data management; and Charles Baer, Rebecca Kimball, and Michael Miyamoto for advice on genetic analyses. This study was funded by the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation, and the University of Florida. The Ministry of Environment and Energy of Costa Rica kindly provided collection and CITES export permits. All necessary permits for collection, export and import of samples were obtained. All work was conducted in compliance with the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, University of Florida.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Karen A. Bjorndal
    • 1
    Email author
  • Alan B. Bolten
    • 1
  • Sebastian Troëng
    • 2
  1. 1.Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research and Department of ZoologyUniversity of FloridaGainesvilleUSA
  2. 2.Caribbean Conservation CorporationSan PedroCosta Rica

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