Mitochondrial genomics reveals the evolutionary history of the porpoises (Phocoenidae) across the speciation continuum

Yacine Ben Chehida, Julie Thumloup, Cassie Schumacher, Timothy Harkins, Alex Aguilar, Asunción Borrell, Marisa Ferreira, Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho, Kelly M Robertson, Barbara L Taylor, Gísli A Víkingsson, Arthur Weyna, Jonathan Romiguier, Phillip A Morin, Michael C Fontaine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Historical variation in food resources is expected to be a major driver of cetacean evolution, especially for the smallest species like porpoises. Despite major conservation issues among porpoise species (e.g., vaquita and finless), their evolutionary history remains understudied. Here, we reconstructed their evolutionary history across the speciation continuum. Phylogenetic analyses of 63 mitochondrial genomes suggest that porpoises radiated during the deep environmental changes of the Pliocene. However, all intra-specific subdivisions were shaped during the Quaternary glaciations. We observed analogous evolutionary patterns in both hemispheres associated with convergent evolution to coastal versus oceanic environments. This suggests that similar mechanisms are driving species diversification in northern (harbor and Dall's) and southern species (spectacled and Burmeister's). In contrast to previous studies, spectacled and Burmeister's porpoises shared a more recent common ancestor than with the vaquita that diverged from southern species during the Pliocene. The low genetic diversity observed in the vaquita carried signatures of a very low population size since the last 5,000 years. Cryptic lineages within Dall's, spectacled and Pacific harbor porpoises suggest a richer evolutionary history than previously suspected. These results provide a new perspective on the mechanisms driving diversification in porpoises and an evolutionary framework for their conservation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number15190
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 16-Sep-2020

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