Mediterranean Sea common dolphins have recently been listed as 'endangered’ in the IUCN Red list, due to their reported decline since the middle of the 20th century. However, little is know about the number or distribution of populations in this region. We analysed 118 samples from the Black Sea, Mediterranean Sea and eastern North Atlantic at nine microsatellite nuclear loci and for 428 bps of the mtDNA control region. We found small but significant population differentiation across the basin between the eastern and the western Mediterranean populations at both nuclear and mtDNA markers (microsatellite FST = 0.052, mtDNA FST = 0.107, P values B 0.001). This matched the differential distribution and habitat use patterns exhibited by this species in the eastern and the western parts of the Mediterranean Sea. The assignment test of a small number of samples from the central Mediterranean could not exclude further population structure in the central area of the basin. No significant genetic differentiation at either marker was observed among the eastern north Atlantic populations, though the Alboran population (inhabiting the Mediterranean waters immediately adjacent the Atlantic ocean) showed significant mtDNA genetic differentiation compared to the Atlantic populations. Directional estimates of gene flow suggested movement of females out of the Mediterranean, which may be relevant to the population decline. Phylogenetic analysis suggested that the observed population structure evolved recently.
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