Genetic diversity of immature Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles from the northern Gulf of Mexico

Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
By: , and 



  1. The Kemp’s ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the world’s most endangered sea turtle species. Predominately nesting at only one beach in Mexico, this species declined to an estimated 300 females in the mid-1980s. Conservation efforts in the United States and Mexico, including a head start programme in southern Texas in which hatchlings were reared in captivity for several months before being released into the wild, resulted in the recovery of this species.
  2. Although genetic data have previously been used to assess the success of the head start programme and dispersal of individual adults, data on immature turtles sampled at foraging areas and adult females sampled at the main nesting beach in Mexico are lacking. Genetic characterization of immature individuals is important for understanding recruitment, survival, and population demography, while genetic data on individuals from Mexico are essential for understanding dispersal and overall genetic diversity in this species.
  3. To address these gaps, mitochondrial DNA data were collected from 106 immature individuals sampled at four different foraging sites in the northern Gulf of Mexico and from 18 nesting females at the primary nesting beach in Mexico.
  4. Two previously unknown mitochondrial DNA haplotypes were discovered among the immature individuals.
  5. Except for these two new haplotypes, the genetic diversity of immature individuals in the northern Gulf of Mexico closely corresponds to that of adults sampled in Mexico, which suggests that much of the diversity within the nesting population can be found among immature animals dispersing to foraging grounds, including locations in the northern Gulf of Mexico.
  6. Continued monitoring of the genetic variation of different life stages of this species across its distribution range will help assess the success of conservation programmes by ensuring the maintenance of genetic diversity and representation of this diversity across the species’ distribution range.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Genetic diversity of immature Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) sea turtles from the northern Gulf of Mexico
Series title Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
DOI 10.1002/aqc.3684
Volume 31
Issue 10
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 8 p.
First page 3003
Last page 3010
Other Geospatial Gulf of Mexico
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