Genetic relatedness delineates the social structure of southern Australian bottlenose dolphins

Fernando Diaz-Aguirre, Guido J. Parra, Cecilia Passadore, Luciana Möller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


Social relationships represent an adaptive behavioral strategy that can provide fitness benefits to individuals. Within mammalian societies, delphinids are known to form diverse grouping patterns and show a variety of social systems. However, how ecological and intrinsic factors have shaped the evolution of such diverse societies is still not well understood. In this study, we used photo-identification data and biopsy samples collected between March 2013 and October 2015 in Coffin Bay, a heterogeneous environment in South Australia, to investigate the social structure of southern Australian bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops cf. australis). Based on the data from 657 groups of dolphins, we used generalized affiliation indices, and applied social network and modularity methods to study affiliation patterns among individuals and investigate the potential presence of social communities within the population. In addition, we investigated genetic relatedness and kinship relationships within and between the communities identified. Modularity analysis revealed that the Coffin Bay population is structured into 2 similar sized, mixed-sex communities which differed in ranging patterns, affiliation levels and network metrics. Lagged association rates also indicated that nonrandom affiliations persisted over the study period. The genetic analyses suggested that there was higher relatedness, and a higher proportion of inferred full-sibs and half-sibs, within than between communities. We propose that differences in environmental conditions between the bays and kinship relationships are important factors contributing to the delineation and maintenance of this social structure.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)948-959
Number of pages12
JournalBehavioral Ecology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jul 2019


  • Affiliation patterns
  • Bottlenose dolphins
  • Generalized affiliation indices
  • Kinship
  • Tursiops cf. australis


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