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Evidence of a genetic bottleneck in an El Niño affected population of South American fur seals, Arctocephalus australis

  • Larissa Rosa de Oliveira (a1) (a2) (a3), Diogo Meyer (a1), Joseph Hoffman (a4), Patricia Majluf (a3) and João S. Morgante (a1)...


The South American fur seal, Arctocephalus australis, was one of the earliest otariid seals to be exploited by humans: at least 6000 years ago on the Atlantic coast and 4000 on the Pacific coast of South America. More than 750,000 fur seals were killed in Uruguay until 1991. However, a climatological phenomenon—the severe 1997–1998 El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)—was responsible for the decline of 72% of the Peruvian fur seal population due to starvation as a consequence of warming of sea-surface temperatures and primary productivity reduction. Currently, there is no precise information on global population size or on the species' conservation status. The present study includes the first bottleneck test for the Pacific and Atlantic populations of A. australis based on the analysis of seven microsatellite loci. Genetic bottleneck compromises the evolutionary potential of a population to respond to environmental changes. The perspective becomes even more alarming due to current global warming models that predict stronger and more frequent ENSO events in the future. Our analysis found moderate support for deviation from neutrality–equilibrium for the Pacific population of fur seals and none for the Atlantic population. This difference among population reflects different demographic histories, and is consistent with a greater reduction in population size in the Pacific. Such an event could be a result of the synergic effects of recurrent ENSO events and the anthropogenic impact (sealing and prey overfishing) on this population.


Corresponding author

Correspondence should be addressed to: L.R. de Oliveira, Laboratório de Biologia Evolutiva e Conservação de Vertebrados – LABEC-USP, Universidade de São Paulo, Departado Biologia (Genética), Rua do Matão 277, Cidade Universitária, 05508-900 – São Paulo – SP, Brazil email:


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