Genetic characterisation and social structure of the East Scotland population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)
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The Eastern Scottish population of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) is the northernmost population of this species. The resident core of this population consists of 120 to 150 different individuals. This small size and its geographical isolation from other populations raises questions about its viability and whether the population has behavioural patterns that differ from those common to other populations of the same species. Microsatellite genetic diversity was low and mitochondrial DNA genetic diversity values were lowest in East Scotland compared to other populations worldwide and to neighbouring populations around UK waters. It has been well documented, from four different field sites worldwide, that male bottlenose dolphins form alliances with preferred male associates. These alliances can last for several years and the males involved show association coefficients similar to those of mothers and calves (0.8-1.0). These alliances appear to be of great importance in obtaining matings for the males. In the Eastern Scottish population males do not form alliances. No evidence of strong associations between individuals of either sex was found and there was no correlation between association and relatedness patterns. I suggest that the isolation and small size of the population together with reduced genetic diversity affects the pressure of kin selection for altruistic behaviours. There is no gain in competing or associating with close relatives for access to mates and it might be more important to avoid inbreeding by dispersing. Although evidence of gene flow between East Scotland and its neighbouring populations was not confirmed with Bayesian clustering analysis, a small set of individuals from Wales were found to be closely related to individuals from the East Coast of Scotland. In general the dynamics found in UK water populations resemble those of the Western North Atlantic with sympatric populations of coastal as well as pelagic individuals.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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