Original Article | Published:

Population structure and seasonal movements of narwhals, Monodon monoceros, determined from mtDNA analysis

Heredity volume 78, pages 284292 (1997) | Download Citation



We determined the nucleotide sequence of the first 287 base pairs in the mitochondrial control region from 74 narwhals, Monodon monoceros, collected in the North-west Atlantic. We detected four polymorphic sites that defined five haplotypes, two of which were found in single specimens. The same DNA sequence was characterized in an additional 353 specimens by digestion with two restriction endonucleases. In this manner each specimen could be assigned to one of the three most common haplotypes. The nucleotide diversity for the total sample (as well as the sequenced subset) was estimated as 0.0017 and pairwise genetic distances between haplotypes ranged from 0.0035-0.0070. The low nucleotide diversity and the low average pair-wise genetic distance between haplotypes suggest a recent expansion in abundance from a small founding population. Despite the low degree of variation, frequencies of the common haplotypes differed markedly between areas. The results indicate isolation, even between geographically close areas, as well as fidelity to specific summer and autumn feeding grounds. Heterogeneity within a presumed single breeding ground suggests mixing of pods with different haplotypic composition.


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  1. Department of Population Biology, Zoological Institute, University of Copenhagen, Universitetsparken 15, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark

    • Per Jakob Palsbøll
  2. Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Tagensvej 135, 1, DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark

    • Mads Peter Heide-Jørgensen
  3. Department of Arctic Environment, National Environmental Research Institute, Tagensvej 135, 4, DK-2200 Copenhagen N, Denmark

    • Rune Dietz


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Correspondence to Per Jakob Palsbøll.

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