Inconsistency Between Socio-Spatial and Genetic Structure in a Coastal Dolphin Population

Delphine B.H. Chabanne, Simon J. Allen, William Bruce Sherwin, Hugh Finn, Michael Krützen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Identifying population structure and boundaries among communities of wildlife exposed to anthropogenic threats is key to successful conservation management. Previous studies on the demography, social and spatial structure of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) suggested four nearly discrete behavioral communities in Perth metropolitan waters, Western Australia. We investigated the genetic structure of these four communities using highly polymorphic microsatellite markers and part of the hypervariable segment of the mitochondrial control region. Overall, there was no evidence of spatial genetic structure. We found significant, yet very small genetic differentiation between some communities, most likely due to the presence of highly related individuals within these communities. Our findings of high levels of contemporary migration and highly related individuals among communities point toward a panmictic genetic population with continuous gene flow among each of the communities. In species with slow life histories and fission-fusion dynamics, such as Tursiops spp., genetic and socio-spatial structures may reflect different timescales. Thus, despite genetic similarity, each social community should be considered as a distinct ecological unit to be conserved because they are exposed to different anthropogenic threats and occur in different ecological habitats, social structure being as important as genetic information for immediate conservation management. The estuarine community, in particular, is highly vulnerable and appropriate conservation measures are needed in order to maintain its connectivity with the adjacent, semi-enclosed coastal communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number617540
JournalFrontiers in Marine Science
Publication statusPublished - 14 Jan 2021


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