Genetic Diversity and Origin of Leatherback Turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) from the Brazilian Coast

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The leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) population that nests in Brazil is restricted to a few individuals, but high densities of pelagic individuals are observed along the southern and southeastern Brazilian coast. We investigated the diversity of the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region in order to understand the relationship between nesting and pelagic leatherbacks from Brazil and elsewhere. High-quality 711-bp sequences were generated, analyzed, and compared with published data from worldwide populations. We detected the presence of shared haplotypes between nesting and pelagic aggregates from Brazil, as well as haplotypes shared with other nesting areas from the Atlantic and Pacific. Furthermore, the use of longer control region sequences allowed the subdivision of the common Atlantic haplotype A into 3 different haplotypes (A1, A3, and A4), thus improving the resolution of mtDNA-based leatherback phylogeography. The use of longer sequences partially supported a closer association between nesting and pelagic individuals from Brazil and pointed to a complex origin for the pelagic individuals in the Brazilian coast.

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