Polar Ecology


Population structure, dispersal and movement patterns of beluga whales. We are using molecular genetic techniques and satellite telemetry to investigate the migration behavior, breeding biology and dispersal patterns of beluga whales. This research is integral to assessing the impacts of climate change and associated human activities on polar ecosystems, and is central to the identification of biologically meaningful management units. These investigations are part of an international collaborative effort among native groups, scientists and resource managers across the Arctic and sub-Arctic.


imgSocial structure and mating systems in beluga whales. While extensive research has been conducted on the role ofkinship in some odontocete species, including killer whales and bottlenose dolphins, little is known about the genetic aspects of group structure in beluga whales. We are using multiple molecular markers (inc. mtDNA, microsatellites) to assess the kin and non-kin basis of grouping patterns in this highly gregarious species.

Gene flow, dispersal and (re)colonization patterns in Steller sea lions. Contrasting trends in abundance among contiguous meta-populations of this large North Pacific apex predator has prompted different status designations under the U.S. Endangered Species Act, with concomitant and different management strategies, for the Western and Eastern DPSs or stocks. We are using novel molecular genetic methods to investigate:

  • patterns of dispersal within stocks,
  • patterns of dispersal across the current stock boundaries,
  • colonization of new breeding sites termed rookeries,
  • mating systems, and individual fitness in Steller sea lions.

This research is being conducted in collaboration with the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

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