Conservation Genetics

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 1405–1419 | Cite as

Environmental and social influences on the genetic structure of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in Southeastern Australia

  • Joanna Wiszniewski
  • Luciano B. Beheregaray
  • Simon J. Allen
  • Luciana M. Möller
Research Article


Determining genetic connectivity of bottlenose dolphin communities helps identify evolutionary mechanisms, such as environmental and social factors, that interact to shape dispersal in highly social marine mammals. Here, we expand on a localized study that found marked genetic differentiation among resident dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the Port Stephens embayment and adjacent coastal communities, to include four additional communities inhabiting different environment types along the New South Wales coast, Southeastern Australia. Analysis of the mitochondrial DNA control region and seven microsatellite loci suggest the nine communities may have originated from a single ancestral population that progressively colonised the coast in a southward direction. Gene flow among communities was predominately governed by habitat type. The two enclosed embayments showed the highest level of genetic differentiation from other communities, while genetic differentiation among coastal and open embayment communities generally followed a pattern of isolation by distance. Directional bias in recent migration rates was evident, with the centrally located Hunter coast communities consisting of individuals with mixed ancestry from the Northern, Southern and Port Stephens communities. Emigration from Port Stephens was substantially higher than in the opposite direction, indicating there may be social barriers to dispersal created by Port Stephens dolphins. Our results suggest that the scale of connectivity of bottlenose dolphin communities inhabiting heterogeneous environments is likely to be affected by local habitat adaptation. This has important implications for the management of communities exposed to increasing levels of anthropogenic disturbances, such as the intensive commercial dolphin-watching industry operating in Port Stephens.


Population genetics Phylogeography Habitat Conservation management 



We thank K. Bilgmann, C. Fury, O. and L. Griffiths and numerous other volunteers for their invaluable help in the field and Macquarie University for providing funding to conduct this project. L. and A. Hepburn and the Sapphire Coast Marine Discovery Centre, J. Hinckley and A. Birrell of the Eden Water Police, and R. and G. Butt of Cat Balou Cruises also provided invaluable logistical assistance with sampling efforts. We also wish to thank R. Hoelzel, A. Palmé and one anonymous reviewer for their valuable suggestions on an early version of the manuscript. Samples were collected under licences from the NSW Department of Environment and Conservation and Marine Parks Authority and under approval by the Macquarie University Animal Ethics Committee. This is a manuscript of MEGMAR, a research group initially supported by a Macquarie University Research Innovation Fund grant (MQA006162) awarded to L. B. Beheregaray.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joanna Wiszniewski
    • 1
    • 2
  • Luciano B. Beheregaray
    • 1
    • 3
  • Simon J. Allen
    • 2
    • 4
  • Luciana M. Möller
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  1. 1.Molecular Ecology Laboratory, Department of Biological SciencesMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Marine Mammal Research Group, Graduate School of the EnvironmentMacquarie UniversitySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.School of Biological SciencesFlinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia
  4. 4.Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit, Centre for Fish and Fisheries ResearchMurdoch UniversityPerthAustralia

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