Because sharks possess an unusual suite of reproductive characteristics, including internal fertilization, sperm storage, relatively low fecundity, and reproductive modes that range from oviparity to viviparity, they can provide important insight into the evolution of mating systems and sexual selection. Yet, to date, few studies have characterized behavioral and genetic mating systems in natural populations of sharks or other elasmobranchs. In this study, highly polymorphic microsatellite loci were used to examine breeding biology of a large coastal shark, the lemon shark, Negaprion brevirostris, at a tropical lagoon nursery. Over six years, 910 lemon sharks were sampled and genotyped. Young were assigned into sibling groups that were then used to reconstruct genotypes of unsampled adults. We assigned 707 of 735 young sharks to one of 45 female genotypes (96.2%), and 485 (66.0%) were assigned to a male genotype. Adult female sharks consistently returned to Bimini on a biennial cycle to give birth. Over 86% of litters had multiple sires. Such high levels of polyandry raise the possibility that polyandry evolved in viviparous sharks to reduce genetic incompatibilities between mother and embryos. We did not find a relationship between relatedness of mates and the number of offspring produced, indicating that inbreeding avoidance was probably not driving pre- or postcopulatory mate choice. Adult male sharks rarely sired more than one litter at Bimini and may mate over a broader geographic area.
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Vol. 58 • No. 10