The origin of Indian Star tortoises (Geochelone elegans) based on nuclear and mitochondrial DNA analysis: A story of rescue and repatriation
The Indian Star tortoise (Geochelone elegans) belongs to the family Testunidae and is distributed in southwest India and Sri Lanka. In addition to facing loss of its natural habitat, the species is also illegally traded as food and as an exotic pet internationally. Here we report DNA-based analyses for identification and repatriation of these tortoises into their natural habitat. We have attempted to establish the geographical origin of these tortoises rescued from smugglers, by comparing the microsatellite and mitochondrial markers of rescued animals with animals of known provenance. Star tortoises exhibited strong genetic structure in India. The populations from western India were genetically distinct at microsatellite and mitochondrial loci from southern populations. The rescued individuals had similar multilocus genotypes and mitochondrial DNA haplotypes as the reference individuals from south India. However, the precise geographic origin of many of the rescued samples remains unresolved, because we could not assign them to southern populations and the Neighbor-Joining cluster analysis indicated that some of rescued tortoises formed distinct clusters. These data strongly suggest that the rescued group of tortoises is composed of a mix of individuals from differentiated source populations that are probably located in southern India and possibly Sri Lanka. Our study provides valuable information based on molecular markers for the assessment of genetic diversity in Indian Star tortoises.
KeywordsGeochelone elegans Indian Star tortoise microsatellites mtDNA repatriation
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We are grateful to Dr. Lalji Singh, for his constant help and inspiration. We are thankful to the Chief Wildlife Warden, Andhra Pradesh and Curator, Nehru Zoological Park, Hyderabad, for permission; Umapathy, Sadanand, Shivaram and Shakeel for their help during sample collection and Arunabala for her help during final analyses. We also wish to acknowledge Dr. K Thangaraj and the three anonymous referees, whose comments and suggestions helped us, improve the manuscript. We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, Central Zoo Authority, Ministry of Environment and Forest, Government of India, and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), India.
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