Category Archives: Publication Announcements

May 2015 – New Publication in Animal Behaviour

ESBDolphin BB flank female

We are pleased to announce the publication of “Male dolphin alliances in Shark Bay: changing perspectives in a 30-year study” in Animal Behaviour

Authors: Richard Connor and Michael Krützen

Abstract: Bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops cf. aduncus, in Shark Bay, Western Australia exhibit the most complex alliances known outside of humans. Advances in our understanding of these alliances have occurred with expansions of our study area each decade. In the 1980s, we discovered that males cooperated in stable trios and pairs (first-order alliances) to herd individual oestrous females, and that two such alliances of four to six, sometimes related, individuals (second-order alliances) cooperated against other males in contests over females. The 1990s saw the discovery of a large 14-member second-order alliance whose members exhibited labile first-order alliance formation among nonrelatives. Partner preferences as well as a relationship between first-order alliance stability and consortship rate in this ‘super-alliance’ indicated differentiated relationships. The contrast between the super-alliance and the 1980s alliances suggested two alliance tactics. An expansion of the study area in the 2000s revealed a continuum of second-order alliance sizes in an open social network and no simple relationship between second-order alliance size and alliance stability, but generalized the relationship between first-order alliance stability and consortship rate within second-order alliances. Association preferences and contests involving three second-order alliances indicated the presence of third-order alliances. Second-order alliances may persist for 20 years with stability thwarted by gradual attrition, but underlying flexibility is indicated by observations of individuals joining other alliances, including old males joining young or old second-order alliances. The dolphin research has informed us on the evolution of complex social relationships and large brain evolution in mammals and the ecology of alliance formation. Variation in odontocete brain size and the large radiation of delphinids into a range of habitats holds great promise that further effort to describe their societies will be rewarded with similar advances in our understanding of these important issues.

You can access the article at:

Apr 2014 – Another publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Fajita with sponge 2

We are very pleased to announce the publication of “Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Michael Krützen, Sina Kreicker, Colin D. MacLeod, Jennifer Learmonth, Anna M. Kopps, Pamela Walsham, and Simon J. Allen

Abstract: Culturally transmitted tool use has important ecological and evolutionary consequences and has been proposed as a significant driver of human evolution. Such evidence is still scarce in other animals. In cetaceans, tool use has been inferred using indirect evidence in one population of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.), where particular dolphins (‘spongers’) use marine sponges during foraging. To date, evidence of whether this foraging tactic actually provides access to novel food items is lacking. We used fatty acid (FA) signature analysis to identify dietary differences between spongers and non-spongers, analysing data from 11 spongers and 27 non-spongers from two different study sites. Both univariate and multivariate analyses revealed significant differences in FA profiles between spongers and non-spongers between and within study sites. Moreover, FA profiles differed significantly between spongers and non-spongers foraging within the same deep channel habitat, whereas the profiles of non-spongers from deep channel and shallow habitats at this site could not be distinguished. Our results indicate that sponge use by bottlenose dolphins is linked to significant differences in diet. It appears that cultural transmission of tool use in dolphins, as in humans, allows the exploitation of an otherwise unused niche.

Krützen M, Kreicker S, MacLeod CD, Learmonth J, Kopps AM, Walsham P, Allen SJ. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use by Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) provides access to a novel foraging niche. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20140374.

Feb 2014 – New publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B

WSBDolphin Liesa with#25305662

We are pleased to announce the publication of the new paper “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Authors: Anna M. Kopps, Corinne Y. Ackermann, William B. Sherwin, Simon J. Allen, Lars Bejder and Michael Krützen

Abstract: Socially learned behaviours leading to genetic population structure have rarely been described outside humans. Here, we provide evidence of fine-scale genetic structure that has probably arisen based on socially transmitted behaviours in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.) in western Shark Bay, Western Australia. We argue that vertical social transmission in different habitats has led to significant geographical genetic structure of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) haplotypes. Dolphins with mtDNA haplotypes E or F are found predominantly in deep (more than 10 m) channel habitat, while dolphins with a third haplotype (H) are found predominantly in shallow habitat (less than 10 m), indicating a strong haplotype–habitat correlation. Some dolphins in the deep habitat engage in a foraging strategy using tools. These ‘sponging’ dolphins are members of one matriline, carrying haplotype E. This pattern is consistent with what had been demonstrated previously at another research site in Shark Bay, where vertical social transmission of sponging had been shown using multiple lines of evidence. Using an individual-based model, we found support that in western Shark Bay, socially transmitted specialisations may have led to the observed genetic structure. The reported genetic structure appears to present an example of cultural hitchhiking of mtDNA haplotypes on socially transmitted foraging strategies, suggesting that, as in humans, genetic structure can be shaped through cultural transmission.

Kopps AM, Ackermann CY, Sherwin WB, Allen SJ, Bejder L, Krützen M. 2014 Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specialisations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins. Proc. R. Soc. B 281: 20133245.