Strong Maternal Fidelity and Natal Philopatry Shape Genetic Structure in North Pacific Humpback Whales

We quantified the relative influence of maternal fidelity to feeding grounds and natal fidelity to breeding grounds on the population structure of humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae based on an ocean-wide survey of mitochondrial (mt) DNA diversity in the North Pacific. For 2193 biopsy samples collected from whales in 10 feeding regions and 8 breeding regions during the winter and summer of 2004 to 2006, we first used microsatellite genotyping (average, 9.5 loci) to identify replicate samples. From sequences of the mtDNA control region (500 bp) we identified 28 unique haplotypes from 30 variable sites. Haplotype frequencies differed markedly among feeding regions (overall FST = 0.121, ΦST = 0.178, p < 0.0001), supporting previous evidence of strong maternal fidelity. Haplotype frequencies also differed markedly among breeding regions (overall FST = 0.093, ΦST = 0.106, p < 0.0001), providing evidence of strong natal fidelity. Although sex-biased dispersal was not evident, differentiation of microsatellite allele frequencies was weak compared to differentiation of mtDNA haplotypes, suggesting male-biased gene flow. Feeding and breeding regions showed significant differences in haplotype frequencies, even for regions known to be strongly connected by patterns of individual migration. Thus, the influence of migratory fidelity seems to operate somewhat independently on feeding and breeding grounds over an evolutionary time scale. This results in a complex population structure and the potential to define multiple units to conserve in either seasonal habitat.


Baker, C.S., D. Steel, J. Calambokidis, E.A. Falcone, U. Gozález-Peral, J. Barlow, A.M. Burdin, P.J. Clapham, J.K.B. Ford, C.M. Gabriele, U. Gozález-Peral, D. Mattila, L. Rojas-Bracho, J.M. Straley, B.L. Taylor, J. Urbán-R., P. Wade, D. Weller, B.H. Witteveen, and M. Yamaguchi. 2013. Strong Maternal Fidelity and Natal Philopatry Shape Genetic Structure in North Pacific Humpback Whales. Marine Ecology Progress Series 494: 291-306. doi: 10.3354/meps10508

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