Highly mobile marine species in areas with no obvious geographic barriers are expected to show low levels of genetic differentiation. However, small-scale variation in habitat may lead to resource polymorphisms and drive local differentiation by adaptive divergence. Using nuclear microsatellite genotyping at 20 loci, and mitochondrial control region sequencing, we investigated fine-scale population structuring of inshore bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) inhabiting a range of habitats in and around Moreton Bay, Australia. Bayesian structure analysis identified two genetic clusters within Moreton Bay, with evidence of admixture between them (FST = 0.05, P = 0.001). There was only weak isolation by distance but one cluster of dolphins was more likely to be found in shallow southern areas and the other in the deeper waters of the central northern bay. In further analysis removing admixed individuals, southern dolphins appeared genetically restricted with lower levels of variation (AR = 3.252, π = 0.003) and high mean relatedness (r = 0.239) between individuals. In contrast, northern dolphins were more diverse (AR = 4.850, π = 0.009) and were mixing with a group of dolphins outside the bay (microsatellite-based STRUCTURE analysis), which appears to have historically been distinct from the bay dolphins (mtDNA ΦST = 0.272, P < 0.001). This study demonstrates the ability of genetic techniques to expose fine-scale patterns of population structure and explore their origins and mechanisms. A complex variety of inter-related factors including local habitat variation, differential resource use, social behaviour and learning, and anthropogenic disturbances are likely to have played a role in driving fine-scale population structure among bottlenose dolphins in Moreton Bay.
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