We genotyped 180 captive desert tortoises (Gopherus agassizii) from Kingman (n = 45), Phoenix (n = 113), and Tucson (n = 22), Arizona, USA, to determine if the genetic lineage of captives is associated with that of wild tortoises in the local area (Sonoran Desert). We tested all samples for 16 short tandem repeats and sequenced 1,109 base pairs of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). To determine genetic origin, we performed assignment tests against a reference database of 997 desert tortoise samples collected throughout the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. We found that >40% of our Arizona captive samples were genetically of Mojave Desert or hybrid origin, with the percentage of individuals exhibiting the Mojave genotype increasing as the sample locations approached the California, USA, border. In Phoenix, 11.5% were Sonoran–Mojave crosses, and 8.8% were hybrids between desert tortoise and Texas tortoise (G. berlandieri). Our findings present many potential implications for wild tortoises in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. Escaped or released captive tortoises with Mojave or hybrid genotypes have the potential to affect the genetic composition of Sonoran wild populations. Genotyping captive desert tortoises could be used to inform the adoption process, and thereby provide additional protection to native desert-tortoise populations in Arizona.
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Vol. 74 • No. 4