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April 2022 – Two new papers in Current Biology on bottlenose dolphin social complexity.

We are lucky enough to have two papers out in Current Biology this week on bottlenose dolphin social complexity.

In the first paper, led by Bristol MSc student Emma Chereskin, we show that vocal exchanges can function as a replacement of physical bonding in dolphin alliances. This is the first evidence for Robin Dunbar’s social bonding hypothesis outside of the primate lineage:

Chereskin E, Connor RC, Friedman WR, Jensen FH, Allen SJ, Sørensen PM, Krützen M, King SL (2022). Allied male dolphins use vocal exchanges to ‘bond-at-a-distance’. Current Biology

In the second paper, led by Zürich PhD graduate Livia Gerber, we show that ‘popular’ allied male dolphins enjoy higher reproductive success:

Gerber L, Connor RC, Allen SJ, Horlacher K, King SL, Sherwin WB, Willems E, Wittwer S, Krützen M (2022). Social integration influences fitness in allied male dolphins. Current Biology.

A selection of press coverage below:
The Independent:
Daily Mail:

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

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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.