Marine Biology

, Volume 156, Issue 5, pp 821–834 | Cite as

Population structure of short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in the North Atlantic Ocean as revealed by mitochondrial and nuclear genetic markers

  • Mirimin LucaEmail author
  • Westgate Andrew
  • Rogan Emer
  • Rosel Patricia
  • Read Andrew
  • Coughlan Jamie
  • Cross Tom
Original Paper


The understanding of population structure and gene flow of marine pelagic species is paramount to monitoring, management and conservation studies. Such studies are often hampered by the potentially high dispersal behavior of the species, the lack of obvious geographical barriers in the marine environment and the scarce sample availability. Short-beaked common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) are widespread in coastal and open-ocean habitats of the North Atlantic Ocean, nevertheless population structure and migratory patterns are poorly understood. Furthermore, concern has been raised about the status of the species because large numbers of dolphins have been taken incidentally in several fisheries throughout the North Atlantic in the past decades. In the present study, a large number of individual samples were obtained from seasonal and spatial aggregations of common dolphins from western (wNA) and eastern North Atlantic (eNA) regions, mostly using opportunistic sampling (i.e. from incidental entanglement in fishing gear or beach-cast carcasses). Genetic variability was investigated using nuclear (14 microsatellite loci) and mitochondrial (360 bp of the control region) genetic markers. Levels of genetic diversity were relatively high in all sampled areas and no evidence of recent reduction of effective population size (i.e. bottleneck) was detected at the nuclear loci. Significant population structure was detected between the two main regions (wNA and eNA) where it appeared to be more pronounced at mitochondrial (FST = 0.018, P < 0.001) than nuclear markers (FST = 0.005, P < 0.05), indicating the presence of at least two genetically distinct populations of common dolphins in the North Atlantic Ocean. In contrast, no significant genetic structure was detected between temporal aggregations of dolphins from within the same region, suggesting possible seasonal movement patterns at a regional scale. The observed levels of genetic differentiation between classes of markers are discussed here as a possible consequence of migratory patterns or recent population subdivision.


Mismatch Distribution Harbour Porpoise Common Dolphin Cetacean Species Significant Genetic Structure 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers and Dr. Sinead Murphy for proving valuable comments and elements for discussion in previous versions of the manuscript. A special thank goes to all people who provided samples, including fisheries observers who spent many days at sea collecting samples under very difficult conditions and stranding networks workers. Samples from the English Channel were kindly provided by Dr. Simon Northridge (SMRU). Dr. Ursula Siebert greatly helped with shipment of samples between the USA and Europe. We were also able to obtain many high quality samples from numerous stranding organizations including: the Virginia Marine Science Museum, NMFS-Beaufort, Mystic Aquarium, New England Aquarium, Cape Cod Stranding Network, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington Marine Mammal Stranding Network. Anna Sellas, Sarah Kingston and Lara Adams deserve special thanks. All specimens were obtained under appropriate US government collection permits. We thank Gordon Waring for his patience in administering this contract. In Ireland, samples were collected with help from the Irish Whale and Dolphin group, and grants from the Heritage Council, National Parks and Wildlife Service, the two EU funded projects: FAIR-CT95-0523: Assessment and Reduction of the By-catch of Small Cetaceans of Small Cetaceans (BY-CARE) and EVK3-2000-00027: Bioaccumulation of persistent organic pollutants in small cetaceans in European waters: transport pathways and impact on reproduction (BIOCET). This analysis was possible thanks to financial support from the Irish Higher Education Authority (HEA) (Republic of Ireland) and from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, NMFS (Reference Order 43EANF030087) (USA).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mirimin Luca
    • 1
    Email author
  • Westgate Andrew
    • 2
  • Rogan Emer
    • 1
  • Rosel Patricia
    • 3
  • Read Andrew
    • 4
  • Coughlan Jamie
    • 1
  • Cross Tom
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Zoology, Ecology and Plant ScienceUniversity College CorkCorkIreland
  2. 2.Department of Biology and Marine BiologyUniversity of North Carolina WilmingtonWilmingtonUSA
  3. 3.National Marine Fisheries ServiceLafayetteUSA
  4. 4.Duke University Marine LaboratoryNicholas School of the Environment and Earth SciencesBeaufortUSA

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