Detecting female precise natal philopatry in green turtles using assignment methods


P.L.M. Lee, Fax: +44-1792-295447; E-mail:


It is well established that sea turtles return to natal rookeries to mate and lay their eggs, and that individual females are faithful to particular nesting sites within the rookery. Less certain is whether females are precisely returning to their natal beach. Attempts to demonstrate such precise natal philopatry with genetic data have had mixed success. Here we focused on the green turtles of three nesting sites in the Ascension Island rookery, separated by 5–15 km. Our approach differed from previous work in two key areas. First, we used male microsatellite data (five loci) reconstructed from samples collected from their offspring (N = 17) in addition to data for samples taken directly from females (N = 139). Second, we employed assignment methods in addition to the more traditional F-statistics. No significant genetic structure could be demonstrated with FST. However, when average assignment probabilities of females were examined, those for nesting populations in which they were sampled were indeed significantly higher than their probabilities for other populations (Mann–Whitney U-test: P < 0.001). Further evidence was provided by a significant result for the mAIC test (P < 0.001), supporting greater natal philopatry for females compared with males. The results suggest that female natal site fidelity was not sufficient for significant genetic differentiation among the nesting populations within the rookery, but detectable with assignment tests.