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The microevolution of the Galapagos marine iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus assessed by nuclear and mitochondrial genetic analyses

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Rassmann, K., Tautz, D., Trillmich, F., & Gliddon, C. (1997). The microevolution of the Galapagos marine iguana Amblyrhynchus cristatus assessed by nuclear and mitochondrial genetic analyses. Molecular Ecology, 6(5), 437-452. doi:10.1046/j.1365-294X.1997.00209.x.

Marine iguanas may have inhabited the Galapagos archipelago and its former, now sunken islands for more than 10 million years (Myr). It is therefore surprising that morphological and immunological data indicate little evolutionary divergence within the genus. We utilized mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequence analyses and nuclear DNA fingerprinting to re-evaluate the level and pattern of genetic differentiation among 22 marine iguana populations from throughout the archipelago. Both genetic marker systems detect a low level of within-genus divergence, but they show contrasting levels of geographical subdivision among the populations. The mitochondrial gene pools of populations from different regions of the archipelago are isolated, and the mtDNA pattern appears to follow the sequence in which the islands were colonized by marine iguanas. Conversely, the nuclear DNA study indicates substantial interpopulational gene exchange, and the geographical distribution of the nuclear markers seems to be determined by isolation by distance among the populations. The natural history of marine iguanas suggests that the contrasting nuclear and mitochondrial DNA patterns result from an asymmetric migration behaviour of the two sexes, with higher (active and passive) interisland dispersal for males than females. Separate genetic analyses for the sexes appear to support this hypophesis. Based on these findings, a scenario is proposed that explains the marine iguanas' low genetic divergence, notwithstanding their long evolutionary history in the Galapagos archipelago.