Population Structure and the Mating System of Loggerhead Turtles (Caretta caretta)

  • Nielsen J
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Abstract

Studies of the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA in loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta) demonstrate that females are philopatric, returning to nest in the region where they hatched. Eleven genetic stocks of maternal lineages have been identified in the Atlantic Ocean. An analysis of the conventionally-used 380 bp of the mitochondrial control region of a sample of individuals from the genetic stock of loggerheads in Mexico (N = 175) revealed 13 haplotypes. When a longer sequence read of 815 bp was analyzed, 17 haplotypes were uncovered. In the genetic stock of loggerheads in northwestern Florida (N = 25), three haplotypes were identified with both control region sequence lengths. Based on the currently known distributions of the three long CC-A1 and CC-A2 haplotypes, two of each are unique to Mexico. This makes the longer sequence reads useful for stock identification. Within Mexico, there was evidence of significant population structuring between Cozumel and the northern region of the sampling area on mainland Mexico (pairwise ϕST = 0.1003, p = 0.0197), but not after Bonferroni correction. A direct comparison of female and male nuclear microsatellite genotypes indicated male-biased dispersal between Mexico and northwestern Florida. Within Mexico, microsatellite analysis indicated significant structuring of females between sampling years and between the northern and the southern region of the sampling area on the mainland. Consequently, this genetic stock, while perhaps not in equilibrium, shows signs of female natal homing. An analysis of clutches indicated that significantly more clutches in Mexico had multiple paternity compared to the northwestern Florida (66% and 23%, respectively). The frequency of multiple paternity was not correlated with female abundance, nest density or sex ratio of reproductively successful individuals. There was no evidence of females benefiting through increased reproductive success from multiple paternity. This is consistent with other studies of sea turtles.

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Authors

  • Janne Thoft Nielsen

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