Ancient DNA of extinct species from the Pleistocene and Holocene has provided valuable evolutionary insights. However, these are largely restricted to mammals and high latitudes because DNA preservation in warm climates is typically poor. In the tropics and subtropics, non-avian reptiles constitute a significant part of the fauna and little is known about the genetics of the many extinct reptiles from tropical islands. We have reconstructed the near-complete mitochondrial genome of an extinct giant tortoise from the Bahamas (Chelonoidis alburyorum) using an approximately 1 000-year-old humerus from a water-filled sinkhole (blue hole) on Great Abaco Island. Phylogenetic and molecular clock analyses place this extinct species as closely related to Galápagos (C. niger complex) and Chaco tortoises (C. chilensis), and provide evidence for repeated overseas dispersal in this tortoise group. The ancestors of extant Chelonoidis species arrived in South America from Africa only after the opening of the Atlantic Ocean and dispersed from there to the Caribbean and the Galápagos Islands. Our results also suggest that the anoxic, thermally buffered environment of blue holes may enhance DNA preservation, and thus are opening a window for better understanding evolution and population history of extinct tropical species, which would likely still exist without human impact.
Electronic supplementary material is available online at https://dx.doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.c.3647741.
- Received October 13, 2016.
- Accepted November 29, 2016.
- © 2017 The Author(s)
Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.