Genetic differentiation among North Atlantic killer whale populations

Andrew D. Foote*, Julia T. Vilstrup, Renaud de Stephanis, Philippe Verborgh, Sandra C. Abel Nielsen, Robert Deaville, Lars Kleivane, Vidal Martin, Patrick J. O. Miller, Nils Oien, Monica Perez-Gil, Morten Rasmussen, Robert J. Reid, Kelly M. Robertson, Emer Rogan, Tiu Similae, Maria L. Tejedor, Heike Vester, Gisli A. Vikingsson, Eske WillerslevM. Thomas P. Gilbert, Stuart B. Piertney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Population genetic structure of North Atlantic killer whale samples was resolved from differences in allele frequencies of 17 microsatellite loci, mtDNA control region haplotype frequencies and for a subset of samples, using complete mitogenome sequences. Three significantly differentiated populations were identified. Differentiation based on microsatellite allele frequencies was greater between the two allopatric populations than between the two pairs of partially sympatric populations. Spatial clustering of individuals within each of these populations overlaps with the distribution of particular prey resources: herring, mackerel and tuna, which each population has been seen predating. Phylogenetic analyses using complete mitogenomes suggested two populations could have resulted from single founding events and subsequent matrilineal expansion. The third population, which was sampled at lower latitudes and lower density, consisted of maternal lineages from three highly divergent clades. Pairwise population differentiation was greater for estimates based on mtDNA control region haplotype frequencies than for estimates based on microsatellite allele frequencies, and there were no mitogenome haplotypes shared among populations. This suggests low or no female migration and that gene flow was primarily male mediated when populations spatially and temporally overlap. These results demonstrate that genetic differentiation can arise through resource specialization in the absence of physical barriers to gene flow.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)629-641
Number of pages13
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011


  • behaviour
  • social evolution
  • ecological genetics
  • population ecology
  • population genetics-empirical
  • predator-prey interactions
  • dolphins tursiops-truncatus
  • multilocus genotype data
  • bottle-nosed-dolphin
  • Orcinus-orca
  • bluefin tuna
  • microsatellite markers
  • cetacean populations
  • maximum-likelihood
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • mitochondrial


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