• cetaceans;
  • kinship;
  • phylogeography;
  • population genetics


We investigated hierarchical patterns of genetic subdivision, and assessed kinship within and between social groups of striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in the Tyrrhenian Sea. A total of 165 samples were analysed at eight microsatellite DNA loci, including outgroup samples from the Adriatic, Scotland and Spain for population-level comparisons. We found population genetic structure within the Mediterranean basin, including small but significant differentiation between the Adriatic and Tyrrhenian Seas (FST = 0.0047, P = 0.008), and between putative ‘inshore’ and ‘offshore’ (FST = 0.0217, P = 0.005) populations in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Assessment of kinship within and among 12 association groups showed higher average kinship for females within than between groups, and smaller groups showed higher average kinship. Comparisons of relatedness for both sexes showed a significant difference between males and females, with females more likely to associate with adult kin. Together these data emphasize the importance of the social cohesion of kin in small groups to the structuring of striped dolphin populations in this environment.