We have been conducting analyses of new and archived genetic samples along with existing data to develop a more complete understanding of the genetic structure of the Sarasota Bay dolphin community. In particular, we are interested in defining the role of relatedness in observed social patterns. Building on previous genetic analyses confirming mother-calf pairings, identifying tentative sires, and distinguishing between adjacent population units, we are examining the degree of relatedness of social associates as one factor that may define group structure.
This project represents the culmination of well over 20 years of genetic work on the Sarasota Bay dolphin community. Over this time, we have brought a diverse array of genetic tools to the investigation of social structure in a well-known core population of dolphins. We have developed various parts of this picture in previous studies and have now added a complete array of microsatellite DNA data for the Sarasota Bay dolphin community. We now have an estimated 1750 microsatellite panels run for this community (8 loci for 216 animals). We are currently in the process of confirming all the mother-calf pairs and completing paternity exclusions for each calf. We are also engaged in confirming the presence or absence of a supernumerary chromosome marker found in this population for the more recently-sampled animals from which blood was drawn. These data taken together provide the basis for a comprehensive investigation of social unit structure in the Sarasota Bay dolphin community. In no other bottlenose dolphin community studied has it been possible to individually profile an entire community over generations with both genetic analyses and long-term behavioral observations.