• Pontoporia blainvillei;
  • franciscana;
  • mitochondrial DNA;
  • control region;
  • population structure


The franciscana, Pontoporia blainvillei, is endemic to the South Atlantic coast of South America. The species is of conservation concern because it suffers elevated mortality rates due to incidental captures in fishing nets, and perhaps it is one of the most threatened small cetaceans in this region. Previous morphological and genetic studies have suggested the existence of at least two distinct stocks to the north and south of Santa Catarina Island in Brazil. Fixed differences were found between a sample from Rio de Janeiro and one from Rio Grande do Sul, in southern Brazil. Using 94 sequences of the control region of mitochondrial DNA, we examined the genetic structure of the species. We found no shared haplotypes between Rio de Janeiro and samples from the southern range of the species distribution. However, a phylogenetic analysis suggests that the former population is diphyletic with respect to the southern samples. This suggests that the populations have not been isolated long enough to reach reciprocal monophyly. Furthermore, genetic differentiation is broadly consistent with a simple model of isolation by distance, that therefore appears as an alternative to a model of strict isolation of two stocks. The estimated levels of gene flow are higher among neighboring populations, and decrease as more distant localities are compared. Finally, the molecular data suggest that franciscanas have expanded in Rio de Janeiro.