U.S. Department of Commerce


Date of this Version



Published in J . EVOL. BIOL. 23 (2010) 20–31.


In social species, breeding system and gregarious behavior are key factors influencing the evolution of large-scale population genetic structure. The killer whale is a highly social apex predator showing genetic differentiation in sympatry between populations of foraging specialists (ecotypes), and low levels of genetic diversity overall. Our comparative assessments of kinship, parentage and dispersal reveal high levels of kinship within local populations and ongoing male-mediated gene flow among them, including among ecotypes that are maximally divergent within the mtDNA phylogeny. Dispersal from natal populations was rare, implying that gene flow occurs without dispersal, as a result of reproduction during temporary interactions. Discordance between nuclear and mitochondrial phylogenies was consistent with earlier studies suggesting a stochastic basis for the magnitude of mtDNA differentiation between matrilines. Taken together our results show how the killer whale breeding system, coupled with social, dispersal and foraging behaviour, contributes to the evolution of population genetic structure.