Genetic variation and admixture of red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans) in the USA.
The most ubiquitous, abundant, and invasive turtle on Earth, Trachemys scripta elegans (TSE, "red-eared slider"), is one of four taxa in a clade that is native to the USA and adjacent Mexico (three subspecies of Trachemys scripta plus Trachemys gaigeae). The present range-wide study of this clade is based on 173 known-locality mtDNA sequences combined with ddRAD libraries for 43 samples emphasizing the western part of the range of TSE, its contact with that of T. gaigeae, and anthropogenic hybrids between TSE and T. s. scripta. The data presented here are the first to sample the TSE × T. s. scripta intergrade zone or TSE × T. s. scripta crosses from introduced turtles. In the western part of its range (New Mexico and Texas), most samples of TSE from the Pecos River have mtDNA haplotypes matching T. gaigeae. Structure analysis of SNPs from the ddRAD show evidence of genetic admixture between T. gaigeae and TSE in all included samples from the Rio Grande and Pecos River. These populations also exhibit T. gaigeae-like head stripes, i.e., a postorbital marking that does not reach the eye. The genetic and morphological data are thereby reconciled, as both suggest that these TSE are intergrades. We recommend that these populations continue to be considered TSE, despite the admixture with T. gaigeae. In the Eastern United States, some samples of the morphologically intermediate subspecies T. s. troostii are not genetically distinct from TSE and some samples share morphological characters and genetic affinities with T. s. scripta. Based on these observations we conclude that the taxon T. s. troostii represents intergrades between TSE and T. s. scripta and should not be considered a valid taxon. Near the already established part of the intergrade zone between TSE and T. s. scripta, TSE mtDNA haplotypes have naturally introgressed into typical-looking samples of T. s. scripta in Georgia. Hybrids between introduced TSE and T. s. scripta are also confirmed deeper within the natural range of T. s. scripta in South Carolina and Virginia. Given the examples of feral hybrids deep within its range shown here and elsewhere, the threat of genetic pollution of T. s. scripta by feral TSE is established.