The Kemp's ridley (Lepidochelys kempii) is the world's most endangered sea turtle species and is primarily distributed in the Gulf of Mexico. In the United States, South Padre Island, Texas serves as a key nesting ground for the species. Genetic studies of the Kemp's ridley have been used to aid in conservation and management practices, with the mitochondrial control region as the most commonly used marker due to its perceived hypervariability and ease of sequencing. However, with the advent of next generation sequencing technology, targeting complete mitochondrial genomes is now feasible. Here, we describe a more complete mitochondrial genome for the Kemp's ridley than has been previously published in literature and demonstrate a cost-effective and efficient method for obtaining complete mitochondrial genomes from sea turtles. We compare the genetic diversity and taxonomic resolution obtained from whole mitochondrial genomes to that obtained from the mitochondrial control region alone. We compare current genetic diversity with previous records. Furthermore, we evaluate the genetic structure between the breeding stock in South Padre Island and that of deceased Kemp's ridleys recovered on the Northern coast of the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and of Kemp's ridleys stranded on the East Coast of the United States. Our results show that complete mitochondrial genomes provide greater resolution than the control region alone. They also show that the genetic diversity of the Kemp's ridley has remained stable, despite large population declines, and that the genetic makeup of deceased turtles stranded after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is indistinguishable from the breeding stock in South Padre Island, Texas.
Frandsen HR, Figueroa DF, George JA. Mitochondrial genomes and genetic structure of the Kemp's ridley sea turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). Ecol Evol. 2020;10:249–262. https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5891
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