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Ecological factors influencing group sizes of river dolphins (Inia geoffrensis and Sotalia fluviatilis)

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Abstract

Living in groups is usually driven by predation and competition for resources. River dolphins do not have natural predators but inhabit dynamic systems with predictable seasonal shifts. These ecological features may provide some insight into the forces driving group formation and help us to answer questions such as why river dolphins have some of the smallest group sizes of cetaceans, and why group sizes vary with time and place. We analyzed observations of group size for Inia and Sotalia over a 9 yr period. In the Amazon, largest group sizes occurred in main rivers and lakes, particularly during the low water season when resources are concentrated; smaller group sizes occurred in constricted waters (channels, tributaries, and confluences) that receive an influx of blackwaters that are poor in nutrients and sediments. In the Orinoco, the largest group sizes occurred during the transitional water season when the aquatic productivity increases. The largest group size of Inia occurred in the Orinoco location that contains the influx of two highly productive whitewater rivers. Flood pulses govern productivity and major biological factors of these river basins. Any threats to flood pulses will likely have an effect on the functionality of these ecosystems and the species living in them.

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