Evolutionary Biology

, Volume 42, Issue 2, pp 177–190 | Cite as

Drivers of Population Structure of the Bottlenose Dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea

  • Stefania Gaspari
  • Aviad Scheinin
  • Draško Holcer
  • Caterina Fortuna
  • Chiara Natali
  • Tilen Genov
  • Alexandros Frantzis
  • Guido Chelazzi
  • André E. MouraEmail author
Research Article


The drivers of population differentiation in oceanic high dispersal organisms, have been crucial for research in evolutionary biology. Adaptation to different environments is commonly invoked as a driver of differentiation in the oceans, in alternative to geographic isolation. In this study, we investigate the population structure and phylogeography of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the Mediterranean Sea, using microsatellite loci and the entire mtDNA control region. By further comparing the Mediterranean populations with the well described Atlantic populations, we addressed the following hypotheses: (1) bottlenose dolphins show population structure within the environmentally complex Eastern Mediterranean Sea; (2) population structure was gained locally or otherwise results from chance distribution of pre-existing genetic structure; (3) strong demographic variations within the Mediterranean basin have affected genetic variation sufficiently to bias detected patterns of population structure. Our results suggest that bottlenose dolphin exhibits population structures that correspond well to the main Mediterranean oceanographic basins. Furthermore, we found evidence for fine scale population division within the Adriatic and the Levantine seas. We further describe for the first time, a distinction between populations inhabiting pelagic and coastal regions within the Mediterranean. Phylogeographic analysis suggests that current genetic structure, results mostly from stochastic distribution of Atlantic genetic variation, during a recent post-glacial expansion. Comparison with Atlantic mtDNA haplotypes, further suggest the existence of a metapopulation across North Atlantic/Mediterranean, with pelagic regions acting as source for coastal environments.


Population structure Phylogeography Tursiops truncatus Mediterranean Sea Gene flow 



This research was funded by the Italian DG Fishery within the research framework of the Italian obligations to the Council Regulation (EC) n. 812/2004 (BYCATCH programme). The authors acknowledge the people that have provided samples: Israeli Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center (IMMRAC, Dan Karem); Blue World Institute, Croatia, Marine Mammals Tissue Bank, University of Padoa, Italy (Bruno Cozzi, Maristella Giurisato); Università degli Studi di Siena, Italy (Letizia Marsili); Morigenos, Slovenia A.R.C.H.E. Porto Garibaldi, Italy (Carola Vallini); Fondazione Cetacea, Italy (Marco Affronte); Tethys Research Institute, Italy (Ada Natoli); Capitaneria di Porto di Brindisi, Italy (Paola Pino d’Astore). We would also like to thank the researchers and volunteers of IMMRAC, Israel.

Supplementary material

11692_2015_9309_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (614 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 614 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Stefania Gaspari
    • 1
  • Aviad Scheinin
    • 2
    • 3
  • Draško Holcer
    • 4
    • 5
  • Caterina Fortuna
    • 6
  • Chiara Natali
    • 1
  • Tilen Genov
    • 7
    • 8
  • Alexandros Frantzis
    • 9
  • Guido Chelazzi
    • 1
  • André E. Moura
    • 10
    Email author
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of FlorenceFlorenceItaly
  2. 2.The Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies and the Department of Maritime Civilizations, The Leon H. Charney School for Marine SciencesUniversity of HaifaHaifaIsrael
  3. 3.IMMRAC (Israel Marine Mammal Research and Assistance Center)MichmoretIsrael
  4. 4.Department of ZoologyCroatian Natural History MuseumZagrebCroatia
  5. 5.Blue World Institute of Marine Research and ConservationVeli LošinjCroatia
  6. 6.Italian National Institute for Environmental Protection and ResearchRomeItaly
  7. 7.Morigenos, Slovenian Marine Mammal SocietyPiranSlovenia
  8. 8.Institute for Biodiversity Studies, Science and Research CentreUniversity of PrimorskaKoperSlovenia
  9. 9.Pelagos Cetacean Research InstituteVouliagmeniGreece
  10. 10.School of Life SciencesUniversity of LincolnLincolnUK

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