Population genetic structure of Morelet’s and American crocodiles in Belize: Hybridization, connectivity and conservation

Clare J Wilkie*, Marisa Tellez, Martin J Genner, Gareth Jones, Martin J Genner

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

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Abstract

Hybridization can influence the evolutionary potential of wild species and can be especially detrimental where one species is abundant, and the other much rarer. In Belize, the Morelet’s crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) primarily inhabits inland freshwater lagoons, lakes and rivers, whereas the less abundant American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is more prevalent among the offshore cayes and atolls. Both species are historically sympatric along the brackish coastline, but it is unclear if admixture between the two is affecting genetic integrity of the species. We investigated the extent of interspecific hybridization across Belize using genomic variants identified using double digest restriction-site associated DNA sequencing (ddRADseq). Five groups of genetically pure C. moreletii were identified, two of which were inland, including the protected Chiquibul National Park. Two groups of genetically pure C. acutus were identified, one on northern offshore islands, and a second along the southern coastline. Hybrids were only identified along the central-southern coastline and were in close geographic proximity to coastal purebreds. Based on these results, we suggest that the central-southern coastline represents a hybrid zone, while the inland areas and offshore islands that harbour only genetically pure populations may benefit from conservation prioritisation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)585-590
Number of pages6
JournalConservation Genetics
Volume25
Issue number2
Early online date9 Jan 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was funded by IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group's Student Research Assistance Scheme, European Croc Network (ECN), Feral – Wild Animal Project.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature B.V.

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