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Satellites, DNA and dolphins
Date:4/30/2010

both data sets, researchers were surprised to discover that dolphins in closely located sites in the northern portion of the study area were most genetically different; in particular, two closely located groups of dolphins near the mouth of the La Plata Estuary (some 35 kilometers--about 22 miles--apart) were the most genetically dissimilar in the study, a finding that coincided with detectable environmental discontinuities. By contrast, two sites separated by hundreds of kilometers to the south were found to be the most similar.

Other correlations hint at the possible role of behavioral patterns in population structure. An examination of both mitochondrial DNA (inherited through maternal lines) and nuclear DNA seems to reinforce current knowledge of cetacean behavior, with females remaining faithful to their natal location and males ranging more widely (except when oceanographic barriers impede their movement). More research on franciscana behavior could further illuminate the role of behavior in population structure.

"We're only beginning to understand the interactions between environmental factors and population patterns in marine environments," said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society's Ocean Giants Program. "What this study shows is that marine systems are not homogeneous environments, but full of variations that could play important roles in shaping and reinforcing how animal populations use their habitat; these types of information are essential for developing strategies on how best to protect these coastal dolphins and broader marine spatial planning."

The franciscana, or La Plata dolphin, is found along the Atlantic coastal waters of South America, from southern Brazil to Pennsula Valdes in Argentina. Although a member of the river dolphin family, the franciscanaone of the world's smallest cetaceansactually lives in coastal waters and estuaries. The species is listed as "Vulnerable" by the World Conse
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Contact: John Delaney
jdelaney@wcs.org
718-220-3275
Wildlife Conservation Society
Source:Eurekalert  

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