Earthwatch scientist Dr. Nancy FitzSimmons travels the world studying the population genetics of turtles and crocodiles.
What can turtle DNA teach us?
“The DNA contained within the cells of one individual is different to the DNA of every other individual, i.e., no two individuals’ DNA will ever be the same,” Dr. FitzSimmons reported in a University of Canberra research bulletin. “Different categories of DNA (called markers) are used to find different types of information. One such category is the mitochondrial DNA, which is particularly useful to distinguish between groups or populations of turtles. Because this mitochondrial DNA is passed on through the mother turtles only, it is a very good method to help understand family histories, relationships between turtles and identifying different stocks.”
A great moment in the field:
Dr. FitzSimmons said of a recent Earthwatch season: “At this point our focus is on doing good monitoring of the populations as cane toads begin their advance across the Kimberley: for the first time we were finding dead toads in Kununnurra. We were really fortunate to have two excellent turtle teams who helped us catch 662 turtles and collect data from them. We have also been fortunate to continue our work with indigenous ranger groups, and this year we were there for their first public presentation of their many projects, including our turtle work, which brought together people from the community and from the campground on a memorable occasion. We felt privileged to be a part of the good work they are doing.”