Beyond Borders: Unravelling the Genetic Connectivity of Mediterranean Dolphins

Morigenos researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from various parts of the Mediterranean and elsewhere in Europe, conducted an extensive study on the population structure and genetic connectivity of bottlenose dolphins in the north-east Mediterranean Sea. This species is known to have high site fidelity, meaning they tend to stay in specific areas. The study focused particularly on the Adriatic Sea and neighbouring regions, drawing samples from Slovenia, Italy, Croatia, and Greece. The study was published in the journal Conservation Genetics.


Utilizing genetic analyses, the researchers gained insights into the population structure and genetic connectivity of these dolphins. Notably, the largest sample size in the study was provided from the Gulf of Trieste by Morigenos, providing critical data for understanding the population dynamics of these marine mammals. The study revealed high site fidelity of dolphins to specific regions, like the Gulf of Ambracia in Greece, Croatian island archipelagos, and the Gulf of Trieste. However, they also found that these populations are not completely isolated from each other; there is some movement and gene flow between them, suggesting a stable metapopulation. The sub-population from the Gulf of Ambracia stood out due to its distinctiveness, small size, isolation, and vulnerability to human-induced pressures. Interestingly however, the study also showed a genetic connectedness between dolphins from the Gulf of Ambracia and those from the Gulf of Trieste, which was unexpected.


This collaborative effort underscores the importance of international cooperation in marine research and conservation. Moreover, the researchers were able to link genetic data with information from various long-term studies, such as the one carried out in the Gulf of Trieste by Morigenos.


Understanding genetic connectivity and population dynamics is crucial for crafting effective conservation strategies that transcend national boundaries. Despite challenges in precisely delineating the boundaries of individual sub-populations due to sampling limitations and method resolution, the study emphasizes the significance of recognizing and preserving the unique characteristics of local dolphin communities with strong site fidelity across the diverse Mediterranean region.


The paper is available here.