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J Hered. 2013 Nov-Dec;104(6):737-54. doi: 10.1093/jhered/est037. Epub 2013 Jul 11.

Geographic patterns of genetic differentiation among killer whales in the northern North Pacific.

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  • 1the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 7600 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115.

Abstract

The difficulties associated with detecting population boundaries have long constrained the conservation and management of highly mobile, wide-ranging marine species, such as killer whales (Orcinus orca). In this study, we use data from 26 nuclear microsatellite loci and mitochondrial DNA sequences (988bp) to test a priori hypotheses about population subdivisions generated from a decade of killer whale surveys across the northern North Pacific. A total of 462 remote skin biopsies were collected from wild killer whales primarily between 2001 and 2010 from the northern Gulf of Alaska to the Sea of Okhotsk, representing both the piscivorous "resident" and the mammal-eating "transient" (or Bigg's) killer whales. Divergence of the 2 ecotypes was supported by both mtDNA and microsatellites. Geographic patterns of genetic differentiation were supported by significant regions of genetic discontinuity, providing evidence of population structuring within both ecotypes and corroborating direct observations of restricted movements of individual whales. In the Aleutian Islands (Alaska), subpopulations, or groups with significantly different mtDNA and microsatellite allele frequencies, were largely delimited by major oceanographic boundaries for resident killer whales. Although Amchitka Pass represented a major subdivision for transient killer whales between the central and western Aleutian Islands, several smaller subpopulations were evident throughout the eastern Aleutians and Bering Sea. Support for seasonally sympatric transient subpopulations around Unimak Island suggests isolating mechanisms other than geographic distance within this highly mobile top predator.

KEYWORDS:

Orcinus orca; ecotypes; genetic structure; microsatellite; mtDNA; populations; subpopulations

PMID:
23846984
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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