Reconstructing paternal genotypes to infer patterns of sperm storage and sexual selection in the hawksbill turtle


Correspondence: David S. Richardson, Fax: +44(0) 1603 592 250; E-mail:


Postcopulatory sperm storage can serve a range of functions, including ensuring fertility, allowing delayed fertilization and facilitating sexual selection. Sperm storage is likely to be particularly important in wide-ranging animals with low population densities, but its prevalence and importance in such taxa, and its role in promoting sexual selection, are poorly known. Here, we use a powerful microsatellite array and paternal genotype reconstruction to assess the prevalence of sperm storage and test sexual selection hypotheses of genetic biases to paternity in one such species, the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata. In the majority of females (90.7%, N = 43), all offspring were sired by a single male. In the few cases of multiple paternity (9.3%), two males fertilized each female. Importantly, the identity and proportional fertilization success of males were consistent across all sequential nests laid by individual females over the breeding season (up to five nests over 75 days). No males were identified as having fertilized more than one female, suggesting that a large number of males are available to females. No evidence for biases to paternity based on heterozygosity or relatedness was found. These results indicate that female hawksbill turtles are predominantly monogamous within a season, store sperm for the duration of the nesting season and do not re-mate between nests. Furthermore, females do not appear to be using sperm storage to facilitate sexual selection. Consequently, the primary value of storing sperm in marine turtles may be to uncouple mating and fertilization in time and avoid costly re-mating.