Navigation Links
Endangered river turtle's genes reveal ancient influence of Maya Indians
Date:7/21/2011

A genetic study focusing on the Central American river turtle (Dermatemys mawii) recently turned up surprising results for a team of Smithsonian scientists involved in the conservation of this critically endangered species. Small tissue samples collected from 238 wild turtles at 15 different locations across their range in Southern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala revealed a "surprising lack" of genetic structure, the scientists write in a recent paper in the journal Conservation Genetics.

The turtles, which are entirely aquatic, represent populations from three different river basins that are geographically isolated by significant distance and high mountain chains.

"We were expecting to find a different genetic lineage in each drainage basin," explains the paper's main author Gracia Gonzlez-Porter of the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. "Instead, we found the mixing of lineages. It was all over the place." Despite appearing isolated, the genetic data showed the different turtle populations had been in close contact for years.

"But how?" the researchers wondered.

The best possible explanation, Gonzlez-Porter and her colleagues say, is that for centuries humans have been bringing them together. The turtles have been used as food, in trade and in rituals for millennia, widely transported and customarily kept in holding ponds till they were needed.

"For centuries, this species has been part of the diet of the Mayans and other indigenous people who lived in its historic distribution range," the scientists point out in their paper. "D. mawii was a very important source of animal protein for the ancient Mayans of the Peten (Preclassic period 800-400 B.C.). And it is possible that these turtles were part of the diet of the Olmec culture more than 3,000 years ago."

One specimen of D. mawii was found in an ancient Teotihuacan burial site in Mexico, a spot located more than 186 miles from the known range of this turtle, the researchers say. An ancient sculpture of a Central American river turtle at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City was found in the Basin of Mexico, more than 217 miles from the turtle's range.

"The Central American River turtle is tame and resilient," Gonzlez-Porter explains, "which makes it easy to transport. Their shells give them lots of protection. People don't have refrigeration so they put the turtles in ponds in their back yards."

During the rainy season in the tropics, the water flows are huge, she says. Rivers and ponds flood, captive turtles escape and mix with the local turtles.

This ancient practice still persists today. In Guatemala, Central American river turtles are kept in medium-sized ponds where they can be easily captured when needed. Similarly, in the State of Tabasco, Mexico, captured turtles are kept in rustic ponds and raised until they are either consumed or sold.

The genetic analysis of the Central American River turtle was initiated because these animals are critically endangered, Gonzlez-Porter says.

They are the last surviving species of the giant river turtles of the family Dermatemydidae. D. mawii is currently the most endangered turtle species in Central America. A recent increase in the commercial demand for its meat has pushed it to the brink of extinction2.2 pounds of their meat can fetch $100. Most local populations have disappeared and this turtle is now largely restricted to remote areas that are inaccessible to humans.


'/>"/>

Contact: John Gibbons
gibbonsjp@si.edu
202-633-5187
Smithsonian
Source:Eurekalert  

Related biology news :

1. In a last stronghold for endangered chimpanzees, survey finds drastic decline
2. Study finds high mortality of endangered loggerhead sea turtles in Baja California
3. Scientists call for protected swimways for the endangered leatherback sea turtle
4. Endangered sawfish focus of national collection and recovery efforts
5. Dealing with taxonomic uncertainty for threatened and endangered species
6. Australias most endangered snake might need burning
7. Jeepers creepers: Climate change threatens endangered honeycreepers
8. T-STAR grant funds genetic studies on shrimp and papaya and endangered cycad rescue
9. Working to conserve endangered Playboy bunnies
10. Humans lend a hand to critically endangered waterbird
11. Biologists rediscover endangered frog population
Post Your Comments:
*Name:
*Comment:
*Email:
Related Image:
Endangered river turtle's genes reveal ancient influence of Maya Indians
(Date:4/28/2016)... Sweden , April 28, 2016 First ... M (139.9), up 966% compared with the first quarter of 2015 ... profit totaled SEK 589.1 M (loss: 18.8) and the operating margin ... 7.12 (loss: 0.32) Cash flow from operations was SEK ... The 2016 revenue guidance is unchanged, SEK 7,000-8,500 M. ...
(Date:4/15/2016)... -- A new partnership announced today will help life ... a fraction of the time it takes today, ... insurance policies to consumers without requiring inconvenient and ... rapid testing (A1C, Cotinine and HIV) and higi,s ... pulse, BMI, and activity data) available at local ...
(Date:3/31/2016)... , March 31, 2016   ... ("LegacyXChange" or the "Company") LegacyXChange is excited ... of its soon to be launched online site for ... https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCyTLBzmZogV1y2D6bDkBX5g ) will also provide potential shareholders a ... DNA technology to an industry that is notorious for ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... June 24, 2016 Epic Sciences unveiled ... cancers susceptible to PARP inhibitors by targeting homologous ... (CTCs). The new test has already been incorporated ... multiple cancer types. Over 230 clinical ... response pathways, including PARP, ATM, ATR, DNA-PK and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... 23, 2016   Boston Biomedical , an ... designed to target cancer stemness pathways, announced that ... Orphan Drug Designation from the U.S. Food and ... cancer, including gastroesophageal junction (GEJ) cancer. Napabucasin is ... inhibit cancer stemness pathways by targeting STAT3, and ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... Calif. , June 23, 2016  The Prostate Cancer Foundation ... increasingly precise treatments and faster cures for prostate cancer. Members of the Class ... across 15 countries. Read More About the Class of ... ... ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... In a new case report published ... how a patient who developed lymphedema after being treated for breast cancer benefitted from ... the paradigm for dealing with this debilitating, frequent side effect of cancer treatment. ...
Breaking Biology Technology: