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Does temporal and spatial segregation explain the complex population structure of humpback whales on the coast of West Africa?

Abstract

Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the Southeastern Atlantic Ocean (International Whaling Commission ‘Breeding Stock B’—BSB) are distributed from the Gulf of Guinea to Western South Africa. Genetic data suggest that this stock may be sub-structured, but it remains unknown if this is due to reproductive segregation. This paper evaluates the spatial and temporal population structure of BSB humpback whales using a combination of maternally and bi-parentally inherited markers. The genetic differentiation that we identify in this study could be due to a combination of (1) spatial and/or temporal segregation on breeding grounds in the greater Gulf of Guinea, (2) the possibility of maternally inherited site fidelity to specific feeding grounds and (3) the use of two generalized but exclusive migratory routes (coastal and offshore) between feeding and breeding areas. Further, photo-identification and genetic sampling efforts in other areas of the Sub-Saharan Western Africa winter range and targeted deployment of satellite tags would help to clarify some of the apparent complexity in the population structure of animals biopsied in this region.

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Acknowledgments

We are grateful to the staff of the WCS/AMNH New York and WCS Country Programs of Gabon, in particular George Amato, Rob DeSalle, Eleanor Sterling, Matthew Hatchwell. Particular thanks are due to Lee White and Guy-Philippe Sounguet (now with the Agence Nationale des Parcs Nationaux), who provided essential support in Gabon. Generous logistic support was supplied in Gabon by Rombout Swanborn and the personnel of SCD. We also thank the following people and institutions in São Tomé and Príncipe: the director of environment Dr. Arlindo Carvalho for permission to conduct this study and the Portuguese Embassy in São Tomé and Príncipe for logistical support. Cristina Brito, Cristina Picanço, Herbert Maia, Maria Pimentel, Carlos Carvalho, João Mendes for their valuable help in the field. To Projecto Delfim, Rolas Island Resort, ECOFAC, project Espèces Phares and the Wildlife Conservation Society for financial support. We would like to acknowledge the contributions of Meredith Thornton, Shaun Dillon and Simon Elwen to sample collection in South Africa, and the Earthwatch Institute and Mazda Wildlife Fund for field support. Logistical assistance was generously provided by the South African Navy and the Military Academy, Saldanha. This material is based upon work supported by the National Research Foundation (South Africa) under Grant Number 2053539. I. Carvalho was supported by a PhD scholarship (SFRH/BD/18049/2004), from the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia—FCT). We would like to thank to Ana Rita Amaral and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, which significantly improved this manuscript.

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Communicated by T. Reusch.

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227_2013_2379_MOESM1_ESM.tif

Figure S1 (Supplementary material) - STRUCTURE clustering results for K = 2, 3 and 4. Group labels are B1 = TSA, combined samples from Gabon, São Tomé, and Angola; B2 = WSA, samples from the West coast of South Africa. Each individual is represented by a vertical column partitioned into colour segments that represents its estimated admixture fraction in each cluster. (TIFF 417 kb)

227_2013_2379_MOESM2_ESM.tif

Figure S2 (Supplementary material) - Median-joining network of control region mtDNA haplotypes of humpback whales, implemented in NETWORK 4.6. (Bandelt et al. 1999). Circle size is proportional to the number of individuals exhibiting the corresponding haplotype. Each location within each haplotype is coloured according to the legend: TSA region: green circle Gabon; blue circle São Tomé; yellow circle Angola – Cabinda; WSA region: red circle West South Africa. (TIFF 222 kb)

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Carvalho, I., Loo, J., Collins, T. et al. Does temporal and spatial segregation explain the complex population structure of humpback whales on the coast of West Africa?. Mar Biol 161, 805–819 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00227-013-2379-1

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Keywords

  • Migration Rate
  • Breeding Ground
  • Site Fidelity
  • Late Season
  • Angola