Special issue on using genetic data to delimit subspecies

August 13, 2013


The Endangered Species Act (ESA) assumes that we know how many species and subspecies of whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans) swim the world’s waters. Correct ESA listings depend on correct taxonomy, and yet a review of current cetacean species and distributions shows that it is very likely that many more subspecies and even species are yet to be described. We have already had problems with listing decisions for Southern Resident killer whales because of incorrect taxonomy and could have problems down- or de-listing the great whales. Past taxonomic studies depended on skull collections but such collections are not adequate to current conservation and scientific needs.

Genetic data hold great promise but are still difficult to interpret. The Marine Mammal Genetics Program at SWFSC and several colleagues from other Centers and outside scientists have written 6 papers for a special issue for Marine Mammal Science. The papers

  • introduce the problem, define populations, subspecies and species concepts,
  • review recent genetic works and analytical methods,
  • assess metrics and magnitudes of difference for accepted pairs of populations, subspecies and species
  • develop a method to quantify diagnosability for mtDNA sequence data
  • and finally develop guidelines and quantitative standards to delimit subspecies relying on genetic data
  • The first 3 papers are in review.


    Last modified: 10/4/2016