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Keywords:

  • Dermochelys coriacea;
  • leatherback;
  • mating system;
  • microsatellite;
  • multiple paternity;
  • polyandry;
  • polygyny

Abstract

The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) is an endangered species, and world-wide populations are declining. To understand better the mating structure of this pelagic and fragile species, we investigated paternity in nearly 1000 hatchlings from Playa Grande in Parque Marino Nacional Las Baulas, Costa Rica. We collected DNA samples from 36 adult female leatherbacks and assessed allele frequency distributions for three microsatellite loci. For 20 of these 36 females, we examined DNA from hatchlings representing multiple clutches, and in some cases assessed up to four successive clutches from the same female. We inferred paternal alleles by comparing maternal and hatchling genotypes. We could not reject the null hypothesis of single paternity in 12 of 20 families (31 of 50 clutches), but we did reject the null hypothesis in two families (eight of 50 clutches). In the remaining six families, the null hypothesis could not be accepted or rejected with certainty because the number of hatchlings exhibiting extra nonmaternal alleles was small, and could thus be a result of mutation or sample error. Successive clutches laid by the same female had the same paternal allelic contribution, indicating sperm storage or possibly monogamy. None of 20 females shared the same three-locus genotype whereas there were two instances of shared genotypes among 17 inferred paternal three-locus genotypes. We conclude that both polyandry and polygyny are part of the mating structure of this leatherback sea turtle population.