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ESR 41:361-372 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01030

Morphological variation in leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) hatchlings at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, US Virgin Islands

Shreya M. Banerjee1,6,*, Amy Frey2, Carolyn M. Kurle3, Justin R. Perrault4,7, Kelly R. Stewart5

1Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA, ORCID: 0000-0003-1210-2162
2Marine Mammal and Turtle Division, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA
3Division of Biological Sciences, Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution Section, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA, ORCID: 0000-0003-1121-9924
4Department of Biological Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, FL 33431, USA
5The Ocean Foundation, Washington, DC 20036, USA, ORCID: 0000-0002-8673-5192
6Present address: Department of Biology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
7Present address
: Loggerhead Marinelife Center, Juno Beach, FL 33408, USA, ORCID: 0000-0002-5046-6701
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Understanding species’ mating systems provides important information about their ecology, life history, and behavior. Direct observations of mating behaviors can be challenging, but molecular techniques can reveal information about mating systems and paternal identity in difficult-to-observe species such as sea turtles. Genetic markers can be used to assess the paternity of a clutch and to assign hatchlings to a father. Leatherback turtles Dermochelys coriacea sometimes mate with multiple individuals, resulting in clutches with mixed paternity; however, the effects of multiple paternity on hatchling quality are unclear. Leatherback hatchlings at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands, exhibit visible variation in individual body size, sometimes within the same clutch. We collected morphometrics and tissue samples from hatchlings across multiple nesting seasons (2009, 2012, 2013, 2015, and 2016) and found that hatchlings exhibited small but statistically significant differences in morphometrics between years. We used maternal and hatchling microsatellite genotypes to reconstruct paternal genotypes, assigning fathers to each hatchling. We found multiple paternity in 5 of 17 clutches analyzed and compared differences in morphometrics between full-siblings with differences between half-siblings. We found no significant differences between morphometrics of hatchlings from the same mother but different fathers. We compared within-clutch variances in morphometrics for clutches with and without multiple paternity and found no significant difference in morphological variation between them. Therefore, we could not attribute differences in hatchling size within a clutch to paternal contribution. Understanding other factors affecting hatchling morphology, and other possible fitness metrics, may reveal insights into the benefits, or lack thereof, of polyandry in sea turtles.


KEY WORDS: Paternal contribution · Hatchling morphology · Multiple paternity · Microsatellites · Sea turtle


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Cite this article as: Banerjee SM, Frey A, Kurle CM, Perrault JR, Stewart KR (2020) Morphological variation in leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) hatchlings at Sandy Point National Wildlife Refuge, US Virgin Islands. Endang Species Res 41:361-372. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01030

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