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Keywords:

  • breeding frequency;
  • Chelonia mydas;
  • genotype reconstruction;
  • marine turtle;
  • sex ratio

Abstract

For species of conservation concern, knowledge of key life-history and demographic components, such as the number and sex ratio of breeding adults, is essential for accurate assessments of population viability. Species with temperature-dependent sex determination can produce heavily biased primary sex ratios, and there is concern that adult sex ratios may be similarly skewed or will become so as a result of climate warming. Prediction and mitigation of such impacts are difficult when life-history information is lacking. In marine turtles, owing to the difficultly in observing males at sea, the breeding interval of males is unknown. It has been suggested that male breeding periodicity may be shorter than that of females, which could help to compensate for generally female-biased sex ratios. Here we outline how the use of molecular-based paternity analysis has allowed us, for the first time, to assess the breeding interval of male marine turtles across multiple breeding seasons. In our study rookery of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), 97% of males were assigned offspring in only one breeding season within the 3-year study period, strongly suggesting that male breeding intervals are frequently longer than 1 year at this site. Our results also reveal a sex ratio of breeding adults of at least 1.3 males to each female. This study illustrates the utility of molecular-based parentage inference using reconstruction of parental genotypes as a method for monitoring the number and sex ratio of breeders in species where direct observations or capture are difficult.