Marine Mammals pp 325-359 | Cite as

Applications of Molecular Data in Cetacean Taxonomy and Population Genetics with Special Emphasis on Defining Species Boundaries

  • Michel C. Milinkovitch
  • Rick Leduc
  • Ralph Tiedemann
  • Andrew Dizon


Morphological, physiological, and behavioural characters are of great interest in phylogenetic and population genetic analyses. However, the genetic basis is known for very few of these traits, and the influence of environmental factors on the observed character variance is unknown in most cases. On the other hand, molecular methods “open the entire biological world for genetic scrutiny” (Avise, 1994). Indeed, while the identification of the genetic bases and modes of transmission of some phenotypic traits have been possible only for humans and very few species that could rapidly and easily be crossed under controlled conditions (e.g. Pisum sativum, Escherichia coli, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Mus musculus, Drosophila melanogaster), the mode of transmission of molecular characters can usually be explicitly and readily specified for any species investigated. In addition, molecular genetic techniques give access to an enormous number of characters: a typical mammalian genome contains several billion potentially informative nucleotides. Another great advantage of molecular markers is the objectivity of characters and of their character states (i.e. alternative conditions of a character) relative to morphological, physiological, and behavioural markers. The objectivity of defining discrete molecular character states also makes them easily repeatable by independent researchers. Finally, many molecular characters probably fit character neutrality more closely than non-molecular characters.


Marine Mammal Killer Whale Bottlenose Dolphin Species Boundary Minke Whale 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2002

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michel C. Milinkovitch
    • 1
  • Rick Leduc
    • 2
  • Ralph Tiedemann
    • 1
  • Andrew Dizon
    • 2
  1. 1.Institute of Molecular Biology and MedicineUnit of Evolutionary Genetics, Free University of Brussels (ULB, cp 300)GosseliesBelgium
  2. 2.Southwest Fisheries Science CenterLa JollaUSA

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