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DNA reveals mating patterns of critically endangered sea turtle
Date:2/3/2013

New University of East Anglia research into the mating habits of a critically endangered sea turtle will help conservationists understand more about its mating patterns.

Research published today in Molecular Ecology shows that female hawksbill turtles mate at the beginning of the season and store sperm for up to 75 days to use when laying multiple nests on the beach.

It also reveals that these turtles are mainly monogamous and don't tend to re-mate during the season.

Because the turtles live underwater, and often far out to sea, little has been understood about their breeding habits until now. The breakthrough was made by studying DNA samples taken from turtles on Cousine Island in the Seychelles.

The hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) was listed as critically endangered in 1996 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), largely due to a dramatic reduction in their numbers driven by the international trade in tortoiseshell as a decorative material an activity which was banned in the same year.

The Seychelles are home to the largest remaining population of hawksbill turtles in the western Indian Ocean. Cousine Island is an important nesting ground for the hawksbill and has a long running turtle monitoring program. It is hoped that the research will help focus conservation efforts in future.

Lead researcher Dr David Richardson, from UEA's school of Biological Sciences, said: "We now know much more about the mating system of this critically endangered species. By looking at DNA samples from female turtles and their offspring, we can identify and count the number of breeding males involved. This would otherwise be impossible from observation alone because they live and mate in the water, often far out to sea.

"We now know that female turtles mate at the beginning of the season - probably before migrating to the nesting beaches. They then store sperm from that mating
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Contact: Lisa Horton
l.horton@uea.ac.uk
44-016-035-92764
University of East Anglia
Source:Eurekalert  

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