Graduation Year

2003

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.S.

Degree Granting Department

Biology

Major Professor

McCoy, Earl D.

Co-Major Professor

Mushinsky, Henry R.

Keywords

promiscuous mating, polygyny, radiograph, reproduction, microsatellites

Abstract

I studied the reproductive characteristics and mating systems of a central Florida population of gopher tortoises (Gopherus polyphemus). Using x-radiography, females were monitored for stage in egg-shelling and clutch size. Eggs began to appear on x-ray photographs in the first week of May in both 2001 and 2002; however, fully shelled eggs were not found before the end of May. In total 55% of the females x-rayed were gravid. Clutch sizes ranged from 4-12 with a mean of 7.29, with a mean clutch mass of 40.9 g. Clutch size increased with an increase in mean carapace length and mean plastron length. Mean clutch mass also increased with mean carapace length of females. Hatchlings began to emerge in late August, with incubation times ranging from 83 to 96 days. 50% of the eggs hatched, with 16.2% of the eggs showing no signs of development when opened. Hatchling mass averaged 30.7 g and was positively correlated with egg mass.

DNA was extracted from blood samples obtained from females and their offspring, and from the sexually mature males in the population. Nine microsatellite loci were amplified and genotypes constructed for each individual. There is evidence for promiscuous mating in gopher tortoises. Multiple paternity was detected in two of the seven clutches (28.6 %). In the clutches with multiple fathers, fertilization was highly skewed to one male, with primary male fertilizing over 70% of the clutch. Females with multiple-sired clutches were significantly smaller than females with single-sired clutches. Among the clutches assayed only one male fertilized more than one clutch, indicating that insemination of females is evenly spread among males of similar sizes. However, males assigned as fathers were significantly larger than other sampled males which may mean that larger males have an advantage in fertilization of clutches.

Conservation efforts should consider the impact of the mating system on reproduction in a population, and the possible impact of the relocation of larger males on recipient populations.

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