Two social communities in the Pearl River Estuary population of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis)

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Abstract:

The way human activities impact animal populations can depend on social structure, which is important to understand in social species such as cetaceans. We investigated association patterns in Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis (Osbeck, 1765)) inhabiting the Pearl River Estuary near Lantau Island, Hong Kong, using a 10-year data set for 88 individuals. Our analyses revealed two social communities. Each had its own region of core use, to the north and to the west of the island, but their overall ranges partially overlapped northwest of Lantau. The northern community had a fission–fusion structure characterized by short-term associations, while the western community had more long-term associations. Mixed-community groups included calves more often than exclusive groups, so between-community associations may arise from common habitat usage, by females especially, in the overlap area. Recent range extensions by the northern community into the west are likely a response to habitat destruction north of Lantau. This suggests ease of movement between the north and the west is necessary for northern-community dolphins to access suitable habitat, and gives new concern to construction projects planned for the region. We emphasize our study as an example of how sociobiological information can be important in understanding human impacts on animal populations.

Keywords: Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin; Sousa chinensis; analyse des réseaux sociaux; association; cetacean; conservation; cétacé; habitat segregation; photo-identification; photoidentification; social network analysis; sotalie de Chine; ségrégation de l’habitat

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z2012-071

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada. 2: Hong Kong Cetacean Research Project, Flat C, 22/F, Block 13, Sceneway Garden, Lam Tin, Kowloon, Hong Kong. 3: FormosaCetus Research and Conservation Group, 310-7250 Yonge Street, Thornhill, ON L4J 7X1, Canada. 4: Natural Resources DNA Profiling and Forensic Centre, Department of Biology, Trent University, 2140 East Bank Drive, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada.

Publication date: August 23, 2012

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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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