Population structure of humpback whales in the western and central South Pacific Ocean as determined by vocal exchange among populations

Garland, Ellen C., Goldizen, Anne W., Lilley, Matthew S., Rekdahl, Melinda L., Garrigue, Claire, Constantine, Rochelle, Hauser, Nan Daeschle, Poole, M. Michael, Robbins, Jooke and Noad, Michael J. (2015) Population structure of humpback whales in the western and central South Pacific Ocean as determined by vocal exchange among populations. Conservation Biology, 29 4: 1198-1207. doi:10.1111/cobi.12492

Author Garland, Ellen C.
Goldizen, Anne W.
Lilley, Matthew S.
Rekdahl, Melinda L.
Garrigue, Claire
Constantine, Rochelle
Hauser, Nan Daeschle
Poole, M. Michael
Robbins, Jooke
Noad, Michael J.
Title Population structure of humpback whales in the western and central South Pacific Ocean as determined by vocal exchange among populations
Journal name Conservation Biology   Check publisher's open access policy
ISSN 0888-8892
Publication date 2015-08-01
Year available 2015
Sub-type Article (original research)
DOI 10.1111/cobi.12492
Open Access Status Not yet assessed
Volume 29
Issue 4
Start page 1198
End page 1207
Total pages 10
Place of publication Hoboken, NJ United States
Publisher Blackwell Publishing
Language eng
Formatted abstract
For cetaceans, population structure is traditionally determined by molecular genetics or photographically identified individuals. Acoustic data, however, has provided information on movement and population structure with less effort and cost than traditional methods in an array of taxa. Male humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) produce a continually evolving vocal sexual display, or song, that is similar among all males in a population. The rapid cultural transmission (the transfer of information or behavior between conspecifics through social learning) of different versions of this display between distinct but interconnected populations in the western and central South Pacific region presents a unique way to investigate population structure based on the movement dynamics of a song (acoustic) display. Using 11 years of data, we investigated an acoustically based population structure for the region by comparing stereotyped song sequences among populations and years. We used the Levenshtein distance technique to group previously defined populations into (vocally based) clusters based on the overall similarity of their song display in space and time. We identified the following distinct vocal clusters: western cluster, 1 population off eastern Australia; central cluster, populations around New Caledonia, Tonga, and American Samoa; and eastern region, either a single cluster or 2 clusters, one around the Cook Islands and the other off French Polynesia. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that each breeding aggregation represents a distinct population (each occupied a single, terminal node) in a metapopulation, similar to the current understanding of population structure based on genetic and photo-identification studies. However, the central vocal cluster had higher levels of song-sharing among populations than the other clusters, indicating that levels of vocal connectivity varied within the region. Our results demonstrate the utility and value of using culturally transmitted vocal patterns as a way of defining connectivity to infer population structure. We suggest vocal patterns be incorporated by the International Whaling Commission in conjunction with traditional methods in the assessment of structure
Keyword Acoustic display
Humpback whale
Megaptera novaeangliae
Population structure
South Pacific
Whale culture
Q-Index Code C1
Q-Index Status Confirmed Code
Institutional Status UQ

Document type: Journal Article
Sub-type: Article (original research)
Collections: Official 2016 Collection
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