Microsatellite markers for the study of cetacean populations


  • This study was realized as part of Elena Valsecchi's PhD project, which involves using microsatellite markers to study social organization among North Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on their Hawaiian breeding ground (in collaboration with Mark Ferrari and Debbie Glockner-Ferrari). This study is based around many hundreds of fragments of sloughed skin representing over 600 individuals. Bill Amos is interested in many aspects of the application of molecular techniques to understanding population structure and breeding systems of marine mammals. Increasingly he is turning his attention towards the mutational mechanisms which lie behind the tools being used, with the ultimate aim of deriving improved measures for parameters such as genetic distance.

Tel. +44 1223 333971. Fax: +44 1223 333992. E-mail: ev10001@hermes.cam.ac.uk


Microsatellites are one of the most important classes of nuclear genetic markers and offer many advantages for the study of marine mammals. Here we describe the isolation and characterization of 12 cetacean microsatellites which are then tested across 30 different cetacean species. For around half the species tested, five or more polymorphic loci were identified. Since many species were represented by only one or two specimens, this figure is likely to underestimate the usefulness of these markers. No relationship was found between microsatellite repeat length and proportion of species which gave polymorphic products.