Fidelity to migratory destinations is an important driver of connectivity in marine and avian species. Here we assess the role of maternally directed learning of migratory habitats, or migratory culture, on the population structure of the endangered Australian and New Zealand southern right whale. Using DNA profiles, comprising mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes (500 bp), microsatellite genotypes (17 loci) and sex from 128 individually-identified whales, we find significant differentiation among winter calving grounds based on both mtDNA haplotype (FST = 0.048, φST = 0.109, p < 0.01) and microsatellite allele frequencies (FST = 0.008, p < 0.01), consistent with long-term fidelity to calving areas. However, most genetic comparisons of calving grounds and migratory corridors were not significant, supporting the idea that whales from different calving grounds mix in migratory corridors. Furthermore, we find a significant relationship between φ13C stable isotope profiles of 66 Australian southern right whales, a proxy for feeding ground location, and both mtDNA haplotypes and kinship inferred from microsatellite-based estimators of relatedness. This indicates migratory culture may influence genetic structure on feeding grounds. This fidelity to migratory destinations is likely to influence population recovery, as long-term estimates of historical abundance derived from estimates of genetic diversity indicate the South Pacific calving grounds remain at <10% of pre-whaling abundance.
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Eratum can be found in Scientific Reports Volume 6 Article 21875, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/srep21875