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A missing piece from a bigger puzzle: declining occurrence of a transient group of bottlenose dolphins off Southeastern Brazil

Authors

  • Liliane Lodi,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departamento de Biologia Marinha, Pós Graduação em Biologia Marinha, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói, RJ, Brazil
    • Correspondence

      Liliane Lodi, Departamento de Biologia Marinha, Pós Graduação em Biologia Marinha, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Caixa Postal 100644, Niterói, RJ 24001-970, Brazil.

      E-mail: lilianelodi@gmail.com

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  • Maurício Cantor,

    1. Departamento de Ecologia e Zoologia, Laboratório de Mamíferos Aquáticos, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil
    2. Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada
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  • Fábio G. Daura-Jorge,

    1. Departamento de Ecologia e Zoologia, Laboratório de Mamíferos Aquáticos, Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Florianópolis, SC, Brazil
    2. Departamento de Engenharia de Pesca, Laboratório de Zoologia e Ecologia by Laboratório de Ecologia e Conservação, Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Laguna, SC, Brazil
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  • Cassiano Monteiro-Neto

    1. Departamento de Biologia Marinha, Pós Graduação em Biologia Marinha, Universidade Federal Fluminense, Niterói, RJ, Brazil
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Abstract

Bottlenose dolphins are widespread off South America with patchy distributions throughout coastal, nearshore and offshore waters. Only limited information on the connectivity between individuals from these different habitats exists, despite the importance of understanding the overall population structure. A group of bottlenose dolphins in an insular habitat off Brazil may help provide evidence of the structure of a larger pelagic population in Brazilian waters. It is unknown whether the dolphins that use this habitat seasonally are part of an open population, a closed population of transient animals, or even individuals from offshore or nearshore groups. To explore the nature of these seasonal visitors we combined two strategies. First, by assessing the population parameters, we described a small group of individuals (maximum of 38 individuals in 2004 and five individuals in 2010) characterized by wide-ranging behavior, low survival probabilities (64%) and an apparent population decline. Secondly, by exploring their social organization at a fine scale, we observed that within a stable group, the dyadic associations are fluid and mostly of short duration, similar to well-known coastal bottlenose dolphin societies. The evidence of a non-structured social network seems to be coupled with apparent seasonal use of this insular protected area for calf rearing and/or reproductive strategies. Overall, our findings suggest that this group may not be an aggregation of individuals from different populations in a specific area, but a relatively stable group formed by the same animals. While continuing research efforts are necessary along the South America coast, the abandonment of the study area by this group may hamper the understanding of population structure and connectivity among pelagic and coastal populations of bottlenose dolphins, as well as the ecological and behavioral mechanisms driving their seasonal occurrence in oceanic habitats.

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