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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 536:243-257 (2015)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11455

Long-finned pilot whale population diversity and structure in Atlantic waters assessed through biogeochemical and genetic markers

Sílvia S. Monteiro1,2,13,*, Paula Méndez-Fernandez3,14, Stuart Piertney4, Colin F. Moffat5, Marisa Ferreira1,2, José V. Vingada1,2,6, Alfredo López7, Andrew Brownlow8, Paul Jepson9, Bjarni Mikkelsen10, Misty Niemeyer11, José Carlos Carvalho1,2, Graham J. Pierce6,12

1CBMA & Departamento de Biologia, Universidade do Minho, Campus de Gualtar, 4710-047 Braga, Portugal
2SPVS & Departamento de Biologia, Universidade do Minho, Campus de Gualtar, 4720-057 Braga, Portugal
3Littoral Environnement et Sociétés (LIENSs), UMR 7266 CNRS-Université de La Rochelle, 17042 La Rochelle Cedex 01, France
4School of Biological Sciences (Zoology), University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen AB24 2TZ, UK
5Marine Scotland Science, Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen AB11 9DB, UK
6CESAM & Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
7Coordinadora para o Estudio dos Mamíferos Mariños (CEMMA), 36380 Gondomar, Pontevedra, Spain
8Wildlife Unit, SAC Veterinary Science Division, Drummond Hill, Inverness IV2 4JZ, UK
9UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, London NW1 4RY, UK
10Museum of Natural History, 100 Tórshavn, Faroe Islands
11International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) Marine Mammal Rescue and Research ProgramYarmouth Port, MA 02675, USA
12Oceanlab, University of Aberdeen, Newburgh, Aberdeenshire AB41 6AA, UK
13Present address: CESAM & Departamento de Biologia, Universidade de Aveiro, Campus Universitário de Santiago, 3810-193 Aveiro, Portugal
14Present address: Oceanographic Institute of the University of São Paulo, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo 05508-120, SP, Brazil
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Integration of ecological and genetic approaches is a particularly powerful strategy to identify natural population diversity and structure over different timescales. To investigate the potential occurrence of population differentiation in long-finned pilot whales Globicephala melas in the North Atlantic, both biogeochemical (fatty acids and stable isotopes) and genetic (mitochondrial DNA) markers were analyzed in animals from 4 regions within the North Atlantic: the northwestern Iberian Peninsula, the United Kingdom, the Faroe Islands and the United States of America. Genetic data revealed strong regional levels of divergence, although analysis of molecular variance revealed no differentiation between the northeastern and northwestern Atlantic. Results from biogeochemical tracers supported previous dietary studies, revealing geographic and ontogenetic dietary variation in pilot whales. Fatty acids revealed ecological differentiation between all regions analyzed, while stable isotopes showed an overlap between some sampling regions. These results suggest that both ecological and genetic factors may drive the levels of pilot whale differentiation in the North Atlantic. The ecological differentiation observed may be related to the exploitation of different foraging niches (e.g. oceanic vs. coastal), which can be highly influenced by prey distributions or oceanographic phenomena. Genetic differentiation may result from historical or contemporary processes or even limited dispersal mediated through the social structure displayed by this species and potential foraging specialization. These results highlight some problems when assessing population structure across multiple markers and the ecological vs. evolutionary timescales over which differences may accumulate. Notwithstanding, the data provide preliminary information about pilot whale diversity and stocks in the North Atlantic, giving essential baseline information for conservation plans.


KEY WORDS: Stable isotopes · Fatty acids · Mitochondrial DNA · Marine mammal · Stock structure · Globicephala melas


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Cite this article as: Monteiro SS, Méndez-Fernandez P, Piertney S, Moffat CF and others (2015) Long-finned pilot whale population diversity and structure in Atlantic waters assessed through biogeochemical and genetic markers. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 536:243-257. https://doi.org/10.3354/meps11455

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