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The genetics of recolonization: an analysis of the stock structure of grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) in the northwest Atlantic

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Although historically distributed along the northeast coast of the United States (US), grey seals (Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791)) were considered locally extinct until the late 1980s when three naturally re-established pupping colonies were discovered. Two large populations in Canada, the Gulf of St. Lawrence (GSL) and Sable Island (SI) seals, are possible sources of immigrants for the recovering US population. To assess the stock structure of grey seals in the northwest Atlantic, tissue samples were collected from Canadian and US populations for genetic analyses. We examined nine highly variable microsatellite loci (n = 158; mean number of alleles per locus = 7.22). When population differentiation was assessed without a priori inference of potential subpopulations, all individuals were placed into one population. Pairwise f ST values showed little difference in allele frequencies between the SI and the GSL or the Canadian and the US samples. We sequenced a 319 bp segment of the mitochondrial control region and identified 25 haplotypes (n = 163). Nucleotide diversity was similar at SI, GSL, and the US sites. Based on mtDNA haplotypes, no significant difference was found between the SI and GSL populations or the Canadian and the US populations. Although grey seals are philopatric, our study demonstrated that the genetic structure of the northwest Atlantic grey seal population is not different from the null hypothesis of panmixia.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Massachusetts – Boston, Department of Biology, 100 Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, MA 02125-3393, USA. 2: Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, Department of Biology, Trent University, 1600 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 3: University of Maine, Department of Wildlife Ecology, Orono, ME 04469, USA. 4: Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 1 Challenger Drive, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada. 5: Maurice Lamontagne Institute, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, 850, route de la Mer, Mont-Joli, QC G5H 3Z4, Canada. 6: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), 166 Water Street, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA.

Publication date: 2011-05-02

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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