Genetic divergence and fine scale population structure of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, Montagu) found in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador

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The common bottlenose dolphin, Tursiops truncatus, is widely distributed along the western coast of South America. In Ecuador, a resident population of bottlenose dolphins inhabits the inner estuarine area of the Gulf of Guayaquil located in the southwestern part of the country and is under threat from different human activities in the area. Only one genetic study on South American common bottlenose dolphins has been carried out to date, and understanding genetic variation of wildlife populations, especially species that are identified as threatened, is crucial for defining conservation units and developing appropriate conservation strategies. In order to evaluate the evolutionary link of this population, we assessed the phylogenetic relationships, phylogeographic patterns, and population structure using mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). The sampling comprised: (i) 31 skin samples collected from free-ranging dolphins at three locations in the Gulf of Guayaquil inner estuary, (ii) 38 samples from stranded dolphins available at the collection of the "Museo de Ballenas de Salinas," (iii) 549 mtDNA control region (mtDNA CR) sequences from GenBank, and (iv) 66 concatenated sequences from 7-mtDNA regions (12S rRNA, 16S rRNA, NADH dehydrogenase subunit I-II, cytochrome oxidase I and II, cytochrome b, and CR) obtained from mitogenomes available in GenBank. Our analyses indicated population structure between both inner and outer estuary dolphin populations as well as with distinct populations of T. truncatus using mtDNA CR. Moreover, the inner estuary bottlenose dolphin (estuarine bottlenose dolphin) population exhibited lower levels of genetic diversity than the outer estuary dolphin population according to the mtDNA CR. Finally, the estuarine bottlenose dolphin population was genetically distinct from other T. truncatus populations based on mtDNA CR and 7-mtDNA regions. From these results, we suggest that the estuarine bottlenose dolphin population should be considered a distinct lineage. This dolphin population faces a variety of anthropogenic threats in this area; thus, we highlight its fragility and urge authorities to issue prompt management and conservation measures.




Bayas-Rea, R. de los Á., Félix, F., & Montufar, R. (2018). Genetic divergence and fine scale population structure of the common bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus, Montagu) found in the Gulf of Guayaquil, Ecuador. PeerJ, 2018(4).

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