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Keywords:

  • bottlenose dolphins;
  • Tursiops truncatus;
  • community structure;
  • home range;
  • association patterns;
  • photo-identification

Abstract

Some populations of coastal bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) comprise discrete communities, defined by patterns of social association and long-term site fidelity. We tested the hypothesis that bottlenose dolphins in Tampa Bay, Florida, form a single community. The longitudinal study of dolphins in Sarasota Bay, adjacent to Tampa Bay, allowed us to ground-truth the definition of community and test whether our approach was robust to small sample sizes of resightings. We conducted photo-identification surveys in Tampa Bay during 1988–1993, and identified 102 dolphins with 10 or more sightings. We used hierarchical cluster analysis to examine the locations and association indices of these dolphins. We used analysis of variance (ANOVA) to test for differences in mean locations and determine whether mean coefficient of association (CoA) values within a community were higher than among communities. Dolphins in Tampa Bay clustered into five putative communities differing significantly in location and CoA values. Kernel estimates of the ranges of these five communities exhibited little overlap; some communities had no overlap at all. We conclude that five discrete communities of bottlenose dolphins exist in Tampa Bay and that such fine-scale structure may be a common feature of bottlenose dolphin populations throughout the southeastern United States.