Morphological and Molecular Reassessment of Graptemys oculifera and Graptemys flavimaculata (Testudines: Emydidae)
The turtle genus Graptemys consists of 15 recognized taxa, distinguished largely on the basis of pigmentation pattern (i.e., soft tissue and shell), head size, and shell morphology. However, phylogenetic studies have shown limited sequence divergence within the genus and between Graptemys oculifera and Graptemys flavimaculata relative to most other members of the Emydidae. Graptemys oculifera of the Pearl River drainage and G. flavimaculata of the Pascagoula River drainage have been recognized as species since 1890 and 1954, respectively. However, the description of G. flavimaculata was based on a limited number of morphological characters. Several of these characters overlap between G. flavimaculata and G. oculifera, and no attempt was made to test for significant morphological differentiation. In this study, we reevaluated the morphological and genetic distinctiveness of G. flavimaculata and G. oculifera with (1) multivariate statistical analyses of 44 morphological characters and (2) 1,560 bp of sequence data from two mitochondria! genes (control region and ND4). The morphological and molecular analyses produced incongruent results. The principal components analysis ordinations separated the two species along a pigmentation gradient with G. flavimaculata having more yellow pigmentation than G. oculifera. Likewise, clustering analyses separated the specimens into two distinct groups with little overlap between the species. Our mitochondrial data supported previous findings of limited genetic differentiation between the two species. However, the results of our morphological analyses, in conjunction with recently published nuclear gene sequence data, support the continued recognition of the two species.