Insights into the intra- and inter-specific relationships of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and multiple Lagenorhynchus species based on genetic analysis



The Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972) aims to protect and conserve populations of marine mammals in U.S. waters. However, for many species, levels of genetic differentiation within them are unknown and little is understood about their actual population structure.  Therefore, delineations for management are often based on differences in morphology, sighting history, and stranding data. This is currently the case for bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and three species of Lagenorhynchus (L. albirostris, L. acutus, L. obliquidens) in the western North Atlantic and eastern North Pacific. Using genetic data from both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, I am working to identify genetically distinct populations of Tursiops and Lagenorhynchus species in U.S. waters to determine if current stock delineations accurately represent the true underlying biological populations. Genetic population information for these species is important to accurately assess how various threats, both natural and anthropogenic, might impact different populations, which is crucial for their successful conservation and management. Additionally, a larger phylogenetic study on all six Lagenorhynchus species worldwide is being conducted incorporating both genetic and morphological data to better understand the inter- and intra-species relationships within this genus. Overall, results from this work will help improve our understanding of the taxonomy and systematics of the genus Lagenorhynchus as well as population structure for both Tursiops and  Lagenorhynchus species in U.S. waters for improved conservation and management.


Nicole Vollmer, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow

NOAA/NMFS/National Systematics Laboratory
Smithsonian Institution Natural History Museum
PO Box 37012, MRC 0153

Washington, DC 20013-7012