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Tortoise Phylogentics

Journal Abstracts

Compiled by Melissa Kaplan, 2002


Phylogenetic relationships among the species of the genus Testudo (Testudines: Testudinidae) inferred from mitochondrial 12S rRNA gene sequences. van der Kuyl AC, Ph Ballasina DL, Dekker JT, Maas J, Willemsen RE, Goudsmit J. Department of Human Retrovirology, Academic Medical Center, University of Amsterdam, Meibergdreef 15, 1105 AZ Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Mol Phylogenet Evol 2002 Feb;22(2):174-83

To test phylogenetic relationships within the genus Testudo (Testudines: Testudinidae), we have sequenced a fragment of the mitochondrial (mt) 12S rRNA gene of 98 tortoise specimens belonging to the genera Testudo, Indotestudo, and Geochelone. Maximum likelihood and neighbor-joining methods identify two main clades of Mediterranean tortoises, one composed of the species Testudo graeca, Testudo marginata, and Testudo kleinmanni and a second of Testudo hermanni, Testudo horsfieldii, and Indotestudo elongata. The first clade, but not the second, was also supported by maximum parsimony analysis. Together with the genus Geochelone, a star-like radiation of these clades was suggested, as a sister-group relationship between the two Testudo clades could not be confirmed. The intraspecies genetic variation was examined by sequencing the mt 12S rRNA fragment from 28 specimens of T. graeca and 49 specimens of T. hermanni from various geographic locations. Haplotype diversity was found to be significantly larger in T. graeca compared with T. hermanni, suggestive of reduced genetic diversity in the latter species, perhaps due to Pleistocene glaciations affecting northern and middle Europe or other sources of lineage reduction. No ancient mt 12S rRNA gene haplotypes were identified in T. graeca and/or T. hermanni originating from islands in the Mediterranean Sea, suggesting that these islands harbor tortoise populations introduced from the European and African mainland.   ©2002 Elsevier Science (USA).


A molecular phylogeny of four endangered Madagascar tortoises based on MtDNA sequences. Caccone A, Amato G, Gratry OC, Behler J, Powell JR. Dipartimento di Biologia, II Universita di Roma "Tor Vergata," Rome, 00175, Italy. Mol Phylogenet Evol 1999 Jun;12(1):1-9

Four of the five tortoise species in Madagascar, Pyxis arachnoides, P. planicauda, Geochelone radiata, and G. yniphora, are endemic and on the verge of extinction. Their phylogenetic relationships remain controversial and unresolved. Here we address the phylogeny of this group using DNA sequences for the 12S and 16S rDNA and cyt b genes in mitochondrial DNA. As outgroups we used two species of Geochelone, pardalis (mainland Africa) and nigra (Galapagos), as well as a more distant North American tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus. We conclude that the two Pyxis species are sister taxa and are imbedded in the genus Geochelone, rendering this latter genus paraphyletic. There is moderate support for the sister status of the two Madagascar Geochelone and for the monophyletic origin of all four endemics, suggesting a single colonization of the island. The separation of Madagascar from other land masses (90-165 mya) predates the origin of the endemic tortoises (estimated to be 14-22 mya). This suggests founding by rafting, a process known to have occurred with other tortoises. The derived morphological divergence of the Pyxis species in a relatively short period of time (13-20 my) stands in contrast to the notoriously slow rate of morphological evolution in most lineages of Chelonia. Copyright 1999 Academic Press.

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