Defining management units for cetaceans by combining genetics, morphology, acoustics and satellite tracking

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Signe Sveegaard, Anders Galatius, Rune Dietz, Line Kyhn, Jens C. Koblitz, Mats Amundin, Jacob Nabe-Nielsen, Mikkel Holger Strander Sinding, Liselotte W. Andersen, Jonas Teilmann

Managing animal units is essential in biological conservation and requires spatial and temporal identification of such units. Since even neighbouring populations often have different conservation status and face different levels of anthropogenic pressure, detailed knowledge of population structure, seasonal range and overlap with animals from neighbouring populations is required to manage each unit separately. Previous studies on genetic structure and morphologic separation suggests three distinct populations of harbour porpoises with limited geographic overlap in the North Sea (NS), the Belt Sea (BS) and the Baltic Proper (BP) region. In this study, we aim to identify a management unit for the BS population of harbour porpoises. We use Argos satellite data and genetics from biopsies of tagged harbour porpoises as well as acoustic data from 40 passive acoustic data loggers to determine management areas with the least overlap between populations and thus the least error when abundance and population status is estimated. Discriminant analysis of the satellite tracking data from the BS and NS populations showed that the best fit of the management unit border during the summer months was an east-west line from Denmark to Sweden at latitude 56.95°N. For the border between BS and BP, satellite tracking data indicate a sharp decline in population density at 13.5°E, with 90% of the locations being west of this line. This was supported by the acoustic data with the average daily detection rate being 27.5 times higher west of 13.5°E as compared to east of 13.5°E. By using this novel multidisciplinary approach, we defined a management unit for the BS harbour porpoise population. We recommend that these boundaries are used for future monitoring efforts of this population under the EU directives. The boundaries may also be used for conservation efforts during the summer months, while seasonal movements of harbour porpoises should be considered during winter.

Original languageEnglish
JournalGlobal Ecology and Conservation
Pages (from-to)839-850
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - 2015

    Research areas

  • Abundance estimate, Harbour porpoise, Passive acoustic monitoring, Phocoena phocoena, Population separation, Population structure

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