New study reveals the evolutionary history of threatened sea turtles

Date: 2/12/2008

The research  team (Eugenia Naro-Maciel and colleagues, Marine Biodiversity Scientists at the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History) tested the evolutionary relationships of all species of marine turtles. The results formed a well-supported phylogenetic tree that tells the story of sea turtle evolution and is reported in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. The evolution of a specialised diet appears to have occurred three times, independently,’ says Naro-Maciel. ‘Many sea turtles are carnivorous generalists. However, hawksbills tend to have a diet of grass—they eat toxic sponges—while the leatherback consumes jellyfish and the green, graze mainly on algae or sea grass.’  Determining the evolutionary relationships among sea turtles as well as the species identity of different populations of this highly migratory group of animals has implications for conservation. All sea turtles are included on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, some of them as critically endangered.

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