The breeding biology of lemon sharks at a tropical nursery lagoon

Kevin A. Feldheim, Samuel H. Gruber, Mary V. Ashley

Abstract

Surprisingly little is known about the reproductive behaviour and breeding biology of most shark species, especially in natural populations. Here, we characterize reproductive patterns and use of a natal nursery at Bimini, Bahamas by lemon sharks, Negaprion brevirostris. We systematically and exhaustively sampled young lemon sharks at Bimini annually from 1995 to 2000 and opportunistically sampled adults over the same period. Out of the 897 young sharks sampled, 119 could be assigned to five sampled mothers using microsatellite genotyping. Reproductive females showed strong philopatry to the nursery, returning to Bimini every two years to give birth. Each of these females may rely entirely on the Bimini nursery for recruitment. The protection of known nursery grounds should therefore figure prominently in conservation efforts for large coastal shark species. The reconstruction of paternal genotypes indicates that litters are sired by multiple males, and females mate with different males nearly every breeding cycle. The ubiquitous polyandry reported here raises the possibility that genetic incompatibility and post–copulatory paternity–biasing mechanisms may operate in viviparous sharks.