We develop a general framework for analysing and testing genetic structure within a migratory assemblage that is based on measures of genetic differences between individuals. We demonstrate this method using microsatellite DNA data from the Bering-Chukchi-Beaufort stock of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus), sampled via Inuit hunting during the spring and autumn migration off Barrow, Alaska. This study includes a number of covariates such as whale ages and the time separation between captures. Applying the method to a sample of 117 bowhead whales, we use permutation methods to test for temporal trends in genetic differences that can be ascribed to age-related effects or to timing of catches during the seasons. The results reveal a pattern with elevated genetic differences among whales caught about a week apart, and are statistically significant for the autumn migration. In contrast, we find no effects of time of birth or age-difference on genetic differences. We discuss possible explanations for the results, including population substructuring, demographic consequences of historical overexploitation, and social structuring during migration.
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