A comparative analysis of geometric morphometrics across two Pseudemys turtle species in east central Virginia

Dillard, Kristin C. MS Thesis.

The phylogeny of the turtle genus Pseudemys is poorly understood. In Virginia, many turtles have been found with indicator traits of both eastern river cooters (Pseudemys concinna concinna) and northern red bellied cooters (Pseudemys rubriventris). This study explores morphological evidence for hybridization between the two species across three riverine sites in east central Virginia.  Museum voucher groups for each species were analyzed for relative shell height and plastron length. The shape of the plastral scutes and upper jaw were analyzed using landmark-based morphometric software. These metrics were compared with measurements taken from 188 field-caught Pseudemys specimens. Across phenotypic metrics, field specimens resembled northern red bellied cooters. Geometric morphometric analysis showed extreme variation. Thirteen field specimens exhibited indicator traits of both species. Because species boundaries do not appear to be well-resolved using accepted phenotypes and morphometrics, we suggest that additional research utilizing molecular methods and genetic analysis be conducted.

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