Geography best explains global patterns of genetic diversity and postglacial co-expansion in marine turtles

Brendan N. Reid, Eugenia Naro-Maciel, Anelise Torres Hahn, Nancy N. FitzSimmons, Marcelo Gehara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


For many species, climate oscillations drove cycles of population contraction during cool glacial periods followed by expansion during interglacials. Some groups, however, show evidence of uniform and synchronous expansion, while others display differences in the timing and extent of demographic change. We compared demographic histories inferred from genetic data across marine turtle species to identify responses to postglacial warming shared across taxa and to examine drivers of past demographic change at the global scale. Using coalescent simulations and approximate Bayesian computation (ABC), we estimated demographic parameters, including the likelihood of past population expansion, from a mitochondrial data set encompassing 23 previously identified lineages from all seven marine turtle species. For lineages with a high posterior probability of expansion, we conducted a hierarchical ABC analysis to estimate the proportion of lineages expanding synchronously and the timing of synchronous expansion. We used Bayesian model averaging to identify variables associated with expansion and genetic diversity. Approximately 60% of extant marine turtle lineages showed evidence of expansion, with the rest mainly exhibiting patterns of genetic diversity most consistent with population stability. For lineages showing expansion, there was a strong signal of synchronous expansion after the Last Glacial Maximum. Expansion and genetic diversity were best explained by ocean basin and the degree of endemism for a given lineage. Geographic differences in sensitivity to climate change have implications for prioritizing conservation actions in marine turtles as well as for identifying areas of past demographic stability and potential resilience to future climate change for broadly distributed taxa.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3358-3370
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular ecology
Issue number14
StatePublished - 2019


  • Cheloniidae
  • Dermochelys
  • conservation priority areas
  • demographic inference
  • population expansion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Genetics


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