|Shark Bay dolphin “Scooter” leads
her calf “Harley” with friend close by.
Credit: Amanda Coates & Janet Mann
The new study is the first to look at the effects of these factors together in a wild animal population and has shown that social and genetic effects are both important for reproduction.
The finding, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was only possible thanks to 25 years of field observations by an international team of behavioural researchers on the dolphin population at Shark Bay, in Western Australia, plus more than a decade of genetic samples taken by a team led by Dr Bill Sherwin of the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences and Dr Michael Kruetzen of the University of Zurich.
“Surprisingly, the genetic and social effects on reproduction have never been studied together in natural populations,” says Dr Sherwin. “One of my doctoral students, Celine Frere, who led the latest study, realised that we could do so by using the long-term observations about which females were associating with each other, and putting that together with what we knew about their genetic relationships.”
Dr Frere found that a female’s calving success is boosted either by social association with other females that had high calving success, or by the female having relatives who are good at calving.
Read the full story at the Faculty of Science newsroom.