PloS one

Breeding sex ratios in adult leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) may compensate for female-biased hatchling sex ratios.

PMID 24505403


For vertebrates with temperature-dependent sex determination, primary (or hatchling) sex ratios are often skewed, an issue of particular relevance to concerns over effects of climate change on populations. However, the ratio of breeding males to females, or the operational sex ratio (OSR), is important to understand because it has consequences for population demographics and determines the capacity of a species to persist. The OSR also affects mating behaviors and mate choice, depending on the more abundant sex. For sea turtles, hatchling and juvenile sex ratios are generally female-biased, and with warming nesting beach temperatures, there is concern that populations may become feminized. Our purpose was to evaluate the breeding sex ratio for leatherback turtles at a nesting beach in St. Croix, USVI. In 2010, we sampled nesting females and later sampled their hatchlings as they emerged from nests. Total genomic DNA was extracted and all individuals were genotyped using 6 polymorphic microsatellite markers. We genotyped 662 hatchlings from 58 females, matching 55 females conclusively to their nests. Of the 55, 42 females mated with one male each, 9 mated with 2 males each and 4 mated with at least 3 males each, for a multiple paternity rate of 23.6%. Using GERUD1.0, we reconstructed parental genotypes, identifying 47 different males and 46 females for an estimated breeding sex ratio of 1.02 males for every female. Thus we demonstrate that there are as many actively breeding males as females in this population. Concerns about female-biased adult sex ratios may be premature, and mate choice or competition may play more of a role in sea turtle reproduction than previously thought. We recommend monitoring breeding sex ratios in the future to allow the integration of this demographic parameter in population models.