Fine-scale population structure of blue whale wintering aggregations in the Gulf of California.

PloS one

PubMedID: 23505485

Costa-Urrutia P, Sanvito S, Victoria-Cota N, Enríquez-Paredes L, Gendron D. Fine-scale population structure of blue whale wintering aggregations in the Gulf of California. PLoS ONE. 2013;8(3):e58315.
Population differentiation in environments without well-defined geographical barriers represents a challenge for wildlife management. Based on a comprehensive database of individual sighting records (1988-2009) of blue whales from the winter/calving Gulf of California, we assessed the fine-scale genetic and spatial structure of the population using individual-based approaches. Skin samples of 187 individuals were analyzed for nine microsatellite loci. A single population with no divergence among years and months and no isolation by distance (Rxy?=?0.1-0.001, p>0.05) were found. We ran two bayesian clustering methods using Structure and Geneland softwares in two different ways: 1) a general analysis including all individuals in which a single cluster was identified with both softwares; 2) a specific analysis of females only in which two main clusters (Loreto Bay and northern areas, and San Jose-La Paz Bay area) were revealed by Geneland program. This study provides information indicating that blue whales wintering in the Gulf of California are part of a single population unit and showed a fine-scale structure among females, possibly associated with their high site fidelity, particularly when attending calves. It is likely that the loss of genetic variation is minimized by male mediated gene flow, which may reduce the genetic drift effect. Opportunities for kin selection may also influence calf survival and, in consequence, have a positive impact on population demography in this small and endangered population.