Mating systems are a central component in the evolution of animal life histories and in conservation genetics. The patterns of male reproductive skew and of paternal shares in batches of offspring, for example, affect genetic effective population size. A prominent characteristic of mating systems of sea turtles seem to be a considerable intra- and interspecific variability in the degree of polyandry. Because of the difficulty of observing the mating behaviour of sea turtles directly in the open sea, genetic paternity analysis is particularly useful for gaining insights into this aspect of their reproductive behaviour. We investigated patterns of multiple paternity in clutches of loggerhead sea turtles in the largest Mediterranean rookery using four highly variable microsatellite loci. Furthermore, we tested for a relationship between the number of fathers detected in clutches and body size of females. More than one father was detected in the clutches of 14 out of 15 females, with two clutches revealing the contribution of at least five males. In more than half the cases, the contributions of different fathers to a clutch did not depart from equality. The number of detected fathers significantly increased with increasing female body size. This relationship indicates that males may prefer to mate with large, and therefore productive, females. Our results suggest that polyandry is likely to increase effective population size compared to a population in which females would mate with only one male; male reproductive contributions being equal.
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