Phenotypic Changes Across a Geographic Gradient: The Case of Three Sympatric Dolphin Species

Abstract

Phenotypic changes in the mammalian mandible can occur at different spatial and temporal scales. We investigated mandibular size and shape variation in three extant closely related dolphins (Cetacea, Odontoceti): Tursiops truncatus, Stenella coeruleoalba and Delphinus delphis in order to test the hypothesis that similar phenotypic changes occur across the same geographical gradient. Our data included 219 specimens representative of the following geographic locations: the Mediterranean Sea, the eastern north Atlantic and the North Sea. Each mandibula was photographed laterally and spatial positioning of eight homologous 2D landmarks was recorded. After applying generalised Procrustes analysis (GPA), intraspecific variation was first investigated between sexes and among populations to allow further pooling of samples. Size and shape differences among populations and species were investigated through multivariate ordination techniques (PCA), Procrustes ANOVA and allometric analyses. In all three species, Mediterranean populations clearly differed in mandible shape from the extra-Mediterranean ones. Among the three, the direction of geographic phenotypic changes was significantly similar in the striped and common dolphin, while the bottlenose dolphin was the most divergent species, differing both in size and allometric trajectory. Shape variation of the two former species highlighted a morphological convergence in the Atlantic, and a phenotypic divergence in the Mediterranean. Shape differences among the three dolphin species were interpreted in the light of different prey preferences, feeding strategies and habitat partitioning to avoid direct competition.

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Acknowledgements

The authors warmly thank the curators of the following institutions for providing access to the collections and to museum facilities: Museo Civico di Storia Naturale, Milano; Museo Civico di Storia Naturale “G. Doria”, Genova; Museo Civico di Zoologia, Roma; Museo di Storia Naturale, Calci; Museo Zoologico, Università di Firenze; Accademia dei Fisiocritici di Siena; Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris; Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Leiden; Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, Bruxelles; Zoological Museum, University of Copenhagen; National History Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh; University of Haifa, Israel; Natural History Museum, Tel Aviv University; Aquário Vasco da Gama, Lisboa; Museu Nacional de História Natural e da Ciência, Lisboa; Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm; Zoological Museum, Barcelona. This research received financial support from the University of Molise and through SYNTHESYS funding (Grant Agreement No. 226506) within the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme.

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Correspondence to Giulia Guidarelli or Carlo Meloro.

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Guidarelli, G., Colangelo, P., de Francesco, M.C. et al. Phenotypic Changes Across a Geographic Gradient: The Case of Three Sympatric Dolphin Species. Evol Biol 45, 113–125 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11692-017-9435-6

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Keywords

  • Geometric morphometrics
  • Mandible
  • Stenella coeruleoalba
  • Tursiops truncatus
  • Delphinus delphis
  • Phenotypic change vectors