, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 853-864
Date: 04 Nov 2006

Population genetic structure of Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei) at the inter-oceanic and trans-equatorial levels

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Abstract

Bryde’s whales (Balaenoptera brydei) differ from other typical baleen whale species because they are restricted to tropical and warm temperate waters in major oceans, and frequent trans-equatorial movement has been suggested for the species. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing genetic variation at 17 microsatellite loci (N = 508) and 299 bp of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) control region sequences (N = 472) in individuals obtained from the western North Pacific, South Pacific, and eastern Indian Ocean. Combined use of microsatellite and mtDNA markers allowed us to distinguish between contemporary gene flow and ancestral polymorphism and to describe sex-specific philopatry. A high level of genetic diversity was found within the samples. Both nuclear and mtDNA markers displayed similar population structure, indicating a lack of sex-specific philopatry. Spatial structuring was detected using both frequency-based population parameters and individual-based Bayesian approaches. Whales in the samples from different oceanic regions came from genetically distinct populations with evidence of limited gene flow. We observed low mtDNA sequence divergence among populations and a lack of concordance between geographic and phylogenetic position of mtDNA haplotypes, suggesting recent separation of populations rather than frequent trans-equatorial and inter-oceanic movement. We conclude that current gene flow between Bryde’s whale populations is low and that effective management actions should treat them as separate entities to ensure continued existence of the species.