Low genetic diversity in pygmy blue whales is due to climate-induced diversification rather than anthropogenic impacts

Catherine R.M. Attard*, Luciano B. Beheregaray, K. Curt S. Jenner, Peter C. Gill, Micheline Nicole M. Jenner, Margaret G. Morrice, Peter R. Teske, Luciana M. Möller

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

13 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Unusually low genetic diversity can be a warning of an urgent need to mitigate causative anthropogenic activities. However, current low levels of genetic diversity in a population could also be due to natural historical events, including recent evolutionary divergence, or long-term persistence at a small population size. Here, we determine whether the relatively low genetic diversity of pygmy blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus brevicauda) in Australia is due to natural causes or overexploitation. We apply recently developed analytical approaches in the largest genetic dataset ever compiled to study blue whales (297 samples collected after whaling and representing lineages from Australia, Antarctica and Chile). We find that low levels of genetic diversity in Australia are due to a natural founder event from Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) that occurred around the Last Glacial Maximum, followed by evolutionary divergence. Historical climate change has therefore driven the evolution of blue whales into genetically, phenotypically and behaviourally distinct lineages that will likely be influenced by future climate change.

Original languageEnglish
Article number20141037
Pages (from-to)1-5
Number of pages5
JournalBiology Letters
Volume11
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2015

Keywords

  • Australia
  • Balaenoptera musculus
  • Climate change
  • Endangered species
  • Phylogeography
  • Speciation

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