Clines revisited: The timing of pupping in the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina)



The regional variation in the pupping season of the harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) was reviewed using the birth periods reported for 65 colony sites distributed over a range from 30.4d̀ to 78.5d̀ North latitude. The birth timing of P. v. vitulina was not related to latitude, but birthing in P. v. concolor along eastern North America exhibited a latitudinal cline. The timing of birth in P. v. richardsi varied in three distinct patterns: (1) a significant unidirectional latitudinal cline extending between Baja California and the west coast of Washington; (2) a cluster comprised of Puget Sound, Washington and Vancouver Island, British Columbia colonies in which birthing occurred an average of 65 days later than on the Washington coast; and (3) a cluster from northern British Columbia and Alaska which did not demonstrate a latitudinal cline. Insufficient data were available for the analysis of P. v. mellonae or P. v. stejnegeri.

We found great regional variation in the timing of birth among all colonies, with mean birth dates occurring as early as 15 March and as late as 3 September. Little variation existed north of 50d̀. To the south of 50d̀, however, most of the variation could be attributed to correlation with latitude or to affiliation with the Puget Sound, Washington-Vancouver Island, British Columbia geographic area.

Clinal variation in pupping could result from: (1) geographic variations in a selective factor with perhaps gene exchange between contiguous populations playing a role in smoothing the variation; or (2) for populations between Mexico and the west coast of Washington, regional variation in a non-selective environmental variable, such as photoperiod.