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Incorporating non-equilibrium dynamics into demographic history inferences of a migratory marine species

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Emma L. Carroll, R Alderman, J L Bannister, Martine Bérube, P B Best, L Boren, C S Baker, R. Constantine, K Findlay, R Harcourt, L Lemaire, P. J. Palsbøll, N J Patenaude, V J Rowntree, J Seger, D Steel, L O Valenzuela, M Watson, O. E. Gaggiotti

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Understanding how dispersal and gene flow link geographically separated populations over evolutionary history is challenging, particularly in migratory marine species. In southern right whales (SRWs, Eubalaena australis), patterns of genetic diversity are likely influenced by the glacial climate cycle and recent history of whaling. Here we use a dataset of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences (n=1,327) and nuclear markers (17 microsatellite loci, n=222) from major wintering grounds to investigate circumpolar population structure, historical demography, and effective population size. Analyses of nuclear genetic variation identify two population clusters that correspond to the South Atlantic and Indo-Pacific ocean basins that have similar effective breeder estimates. In contrast, all wintering grounds show significant differentiation for mtDNA, but no sex-biased dispersal was detected using the microsatellite genotypes. An approximate Bayesian computation (ABC) approach with microsatellite markers compared scenarios with gene flow through time, or isolation and secondary contact between ocean basins, while modeling declines in abundance linked to whaling. Secondary-contact scenarios yield the highest posterior probabilities, implying that populations in different ocean basins were largely isolated and came into secondary contact within the last 25,000 years, but the role of whaling in changes in genetic diversity and gene flow over recent generations could not be resolved. We hypothesis that these findings are driven by factors that promote isolation, such as female philopatry, and factors that could promote dispersal, such oceanographic changes. These findings highlight the application of ABC approaches to infer connectivity in mobile species with complex population histories and currently low levels of differentiation.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-68
Issue number1
Early online date3 May 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

    Research areas

  • Southern right whale, Approximate Bayesian computation, Historical demography, Connectivity, Last glacial maximum, Non-equilibrium population genetics, Eubalaena australis , Cicumpolar SRW connectivity over time

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