US: Using DNA samples and images from Earth-orbiting satellites, conservationists from Columbia University, the Wildlife Conservation Society, the American Museum of Natural History and Fundación AquaMarina, are gathering new insights about the Franciscana, a lesser known coastal dolphin species of eastern South America.
The study, one of the first to combine molecular data along with range-wide environmental information for a marine species, is helping researchers to understand how seemingly monotonous marine environments actually contain significant habitat differences that are shaping populations of this threatened species, which averages between 5-6 feet in length and around 80-90 pounds in weight.
“The availability of both genetic and environmental data provided us with a rare opportunity to examine how ecological factors affect population structure in a marine species,” said Martin Mendez, the study’s lead author. “In this instance, the study subject is possibly the most endangered cetacean in South America, so delineating populations and the factors that create them certainly plays an important role in conservation measures.”
What really sets the study apart is the use of region-wide satellite data that shows how environmental differences—temperature, turbidity, and chlorophyll levels—are probably involved in creating those genetically distinct populations. The oceanographic data was provided by NASA’s SeaWiFS and MODIS, two satellites designed to gather information on oceanic conditions.
Source: Eureka Alert