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Extinct Seychelles mud turtle species never existed: Study

Last Updated: Friday, April 5, 2013 - 16:29

Berlin: Much ado about nothing! A Seychelles freshwater mud turtle species declared extinct, in fact never existed, scientists claim.

Scientists at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Dresden used genetic evidence to prove the turtle species Pelusios seychellensis regarded hitherto as extinct was never a separate species, and is in fact Pelusios castaneus, a turtle species widespread in West Africa.

Just three specimens of Pelusios seychellensis were collected at the end of the 19th century; they are still kept at the Natural History Museum in Vienna and the Zoological Museum in Hamburg.

Despite an intensive search for this species, which was declared as "extinct" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), no further specimens have been found since those in the 19th century.

"Consequently, it was assumed the species had been exterminated," said Professor Uwe Fritz, director of the Museum of Zoology at the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden.

"We have examined the DNA of the original specimen from the museum in Vienna and discovered that these turtles are not a separate species," Fritz said.

The genetic analyses have shown that this supposed Seychellois species is in reality another species, Pelusios castaneus, that is widespread in West Africa.

"The species Pelusios seychellensis has therefore never existed. In fact, for a long time researchers were amazed that the supposed Seychelles turtles looked so deceptively similar to the West African turtles," Fritz added.

"But due to the great geographic distance, it was thought this had to be a different species, which is why the assumed Seychelles turtles were also described as a new species in 1906," Fritz said in a statement.

Another species classified as native therefore disappears from the list of Seychelles species. Last year, Fritz and his team had already proved that another mud turtle species, Pelusios subniger, was not endemic to the Seychelles but had been introduced by man.

"In the Seychelles there is therefore at most one mud turtle species that could be native. And even with this species we are still uncertain whether it really is endemic," said Fritz.

The study was published in journal PLOS ONE.


First Published: Friday, April 5, 2013 - 16:29
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