Founder populations are susceptible to reduced genetic diversity, which can hinder successful population establishment. A new genetic lineage of the New Zealand sea lion (Phocarctos hookeri) has recently colonised the historical range of the New Zealand mainland (Otago Peninsula). Despite a small founding population, previous research indicated that nuclear genetic diversity in the Otago Peninsula population is similar to that of the larger source population (Sandy Bay, Auckland Islands). Our research aimed to identify whether mechanisms of female mate choice could help to explain the unexpectedly high level of genetic diversity in the founder population. We used genetic data at 12 microsatellite loci for mother–pup pairs from both populations, and the software COLONY to identify putative paternal genotypes inferred from allele sharing between known mother–pup pairs. We found that mating pairs were, on average, more related at the Otago Peninsula location. However, Sandy Bay females were mating with males more related to themselves than expected by chance, while the Otago Peninsula females were not. These findings suggest that female choice in this otariid species appears important, although may be constrained in some situations. Our findings also help to explain how the recently founded population is able to maintain a viable, growing population.
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Vol. 66 • No. 5-6