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Genetic and Demographic Factors in the Conservation of the Alligator Snapping TurtleEPA Grant Number: F5E10983
Title: Genetic and Demographic Factors in the Conservation of the Alligator Snapping Turtle
Investigators: Swann, Amaris L.
Institution: Rice University at Houston
EPA Project Officer: Cobbs-Green, Gladys M.
Project Period: September 1, 2005 through September 1, 2006
Project Amount: $95,934
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2005) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships
Declining populations of the alligator snapping turtle, Macroclemys temminckii, throughout its range is a concern to conservationists. The need to develop a captive breeding program requires critical information about the genetics and demography of the species. In the past, zoos have felt that breeding pairs that were most distantly related was the best way to preserve heterozygosity in a small captive population. M. temminckii, which spends its entire life in one river drainage and is not believed to migrate between drainages. Consequently, the roles of inbreeding and outbreeding in these populations are not yet understood. This research will be broken into two phases, each addressing important components of the conservation of M. temminckii. The first phase will focus on the population structure of these turtles. MtDNA, AFLPs, microsatellite/allozyme, and morphometric analyses will be performed on turtles found in the American Zoological Assoc. (AZA) and on turtles collected from Texas and Louisiana to evaluate the potential levels of inbreeding and outbreeding in the wild and captive populations. The second phase investigates ecological aspects of M. temminckii’s natural habitat. Since little is known about the natural populations, data collected on age structure, sex ratio, and census size will be analyzed, ultimately giving a complete picture of M. temminckii populations in captivity as well as the wild. To understand the possible relationship between demography and level of inbreeding more fully, a comparison study will be implemented using two species of aquatic turtles: Chelydra serpentina serpentina and Pseudemys concinna. These species have strikingly different evolutionary histories from M. temminckii. The same genetic and morphometric assays used for M. temminckii will thus be used on these comparison species. The results of this research are expected to clarify ambiguities found in the studbook records and determine if current breeding programs are in the best interests of the species.