The authors thank the Australian Research Council, Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation, and The University of California, Irvine.
Sea snakes rarely venture far from home
Article first published online: 1 MAY 2012
© 2012 The Authors. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
Ecology and Evolution
Volume 2, Issue 6, pages 1113–1121, June 2012
How to Cite
Lukoschek, V. and Shine, R. (2012), Sea snakes rarely venture far from home. Ecology and Evolution, 2: 1113–1121. doi: 10.1002/ece3.256
- Issue published online: 12 JUN 2012
- Article first published online: 1 MAY 2012
- Received: 25 February 2012; Revised: 8 March 2012; Accepted: 9 March 2012
- Coral reefs;
- demographic isolation;
- marine reptile;
The extent to which populations are connected by dispersal influences all aspects of their biology and informs the spatial scale of optimal conservation strategies. Obtaining direct estimates of dispersal is challenging, particularly in marine systems, with studies typically relying on indirect approaches to evaluate connectivity. To overcome this challenge, we combine information from an eight-year mark-recapture study with high-resolution genetic data to demonstrate extremely low dispersal and restricted gene flow at small spatial scales for a large, potentially mobile marine vertebrate, the turtleheaded sea snake (Emydocephalus annulatus). Our mark-recapture study indicated that adjacent bays in New Caledonia (<1.15 km apart) contain virtually separate sea snake populations. Sea snakes could easily swim between bays but rarely do so. Of 817 recaptures of marked snakes, only two snakes had moved between bays. We genotyped 136 snakes for 11 polymorphic microsatellite loci and found statistically significant genetic divergence between the two bays (FST= 0.008, P < 0.01). Bayesian clustering analyses detected low mixed ancestry within bays and genetic relatedness coefficients were higher, on average, within than between bays. Our results indicate that turtleheaded sea snakes rarely venture far from home, which has strong implications for their ecology, evolution, and conservation.