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Stable isotopes indicate population structuring in the Southwest Atlantic population of right whales
Vighi, M.; Borrell Thió, Assumpció; Crespo, E. A.; Oliveira, L. R.; Simões Lopes, P. C.; Flores, P. A. C.; García, N. A.; Aguilar, Àlex
Universitat de Barcelona
From the early 17th century to the 1970s southern right whales, Eubalaena australis, were subject to intense exploitation along the Atlantic coast of South America. Catches along this coast recorded by whalers originally formed a continuum from Brazil to Tierra del Fuego. Nevertheless, the recovery of the population has apparently occurred fragmentarily, and with two main areas of concentration, one off southern Brazil (Santa Catarina) and another off central Argentina (Peninsula Valdés). This pattern suggests some level of heterogeneity amongst the population, which is apparently contradicted by records that traced individuals moving throughout the whole geographical extension covered by the species in the Southwest Atlantic. To test the hypothesis of the potential occurrence of discrete subpopulations exploiting specific habitats, we investigated N, C and O isotopic values in 125 bone samples obtained from whaling factories operating in the early 1970s in southern Brazil (n = 72) and from contemporary and more recent strandings occurring in central Argentina (n = 53). Results indicated significant differences between the two sampling areas, being δ13C and δ18O values significantly higher in samples from southern Brazil than in those from central Argentina. This variation was consistent with isotopic baselines from the two areas, indicating the occurrence of some level of structure in the Southwest Atlantic right whale population and equally that whales more likely feed in areas commonly thought to exclusively serve as nursing grounds. Results aim at reconsidering of the units currently used in the management of the southern right whale in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. In the context of the current die-off affecting the species in Peninsula Valdés, these results also highlight the necessity to better understand movements of individuals and precisely identify their feeding areas.
Ecologia marina
Biologia de poblacions
Poblacions animals
Atlàntic, Oceà
Marine ecology
Population biology
Animal populations
Atlantic Ocean
cc-by (c) Vighi, M. et al., 2014
Artículo - Versión publicada
Public Library of Science (PLoS)

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