NEW YORK (June 22, 2011) A new genetic study by a team of Cuban and American researchers confirms that American crocodiles are hybridizing with wild populations of critically endangered Cuban crocodiles, which may cause a population decline of this species found only in the Cuban Archipelago.
Cuban crocodiles and American crocodiles have been confirmed to interbreed in captivity and were suspected to hybridize in the wild. This is the first genetic study that confirms wild hybridization.
The study, which appears in the spring issue of the Journal of Experimental Zoology, is by Yoamel Milin-Garca of the University of Havana; Miryam Venegas-Anaya of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Roberto Frias-Soler of the University of Havana; Andrew Crawford of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Roberto Ramos-Targarona, Roberto Rodrguez-Sobern, and Manuel Alonso-Tabet of Empresa Nacional para la Proteccin de la Flora y la Fauna; the late John Thorbjarnarson of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Oris I. Sanjur of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute; Georgina Espinosa-Lpez of the University of Havana; and Eldredge Bermingham of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
Known for their leaping ability and aggressive disposition, Cuban crocs are a charismatic and culturally significant species to Cuba. Exact population estimates for the species remain unknown, though scientists believe that a minimum of 3,000 individuals remain in the Zapata swamp. A smaller population exists in the Lanier Swamp on the Island of Youth. The species was extensively hunted from the middle of the 19th century through the 1960s resulting in drastic population declines.
The team collected and analyzed DNA from 89 wild-caught Cuban and American crocodiles in the wild and two samples from crocodiles in zoos.
The genetic data produced an unsuspected result: American crocodiles in Cuba are more closely related to Cuban crocodiles than
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Wildlife Conservation Society