, Volume 148, Issue 3, pp 671-681
Date: 14 Oct 2005

Population differentiation of the Atlantic spotted dolphin (Stenella frontalis) in the western North Atlantic, including the Gulf of Mexico

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Abstract

Information about the genetic population structure of the Atlantic spotted dolphin [Stenella frontalis (G. Cuvier 1829)] in the western North Atlantic would greatly improve conservation and management of this species in USA waters. To this end, mitochondrial control region sequences and five nuclear microsatellite loci were used to test for genetic differentiation of Atlantic spotted dolphins in the western North Atlantic, including the Gulf of Mexico (n=199). Skin tissue samples were collected from 1994–2000. Significant heterozygote deficiencies in three microsatellite loci within samples collected off the eastern USA coast prompted investigation of a possible Wahlund effect, resulting in evidence for previously unsuspected population subdivision in this region. In subsequent analyses including three putative populations, two in the western North Atlantic (n=38, n=85) and one in the Gulf of Mexico (n=76), significant genetic differentiation was detected for both nuclear DNA (R ST=0.096, P≤0.0001) and mitochondrial DNA (Φ ST=0.215, P≤0.0001), as well as for all pair-wise population comparisons for both markers. This genetic evidence for population differentiation coupled to known biogeographic transition zones at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, evidence of female philopatry, and preliminary support for significant genetic differences between previously documented morphotypes of Atlantic spotted dolphins in coastal and offshore waters all indicate that the biology and life history of this species is more complex than previously assumed. Assumptions of large, panmictic populations might not be accurate in other areas where S. frontalis is continuously distributed (e.g., eastern Atlantic), and could have a detrimental effect on long-term viability and maintenance of genetic diversity in this species in regions where incidental human-induced mortality occurs.

Communicated by J.P.Grassle, New Brunswick