[MARMAM] Cultural hitchhiking in the matrilineal whales

Hal Whitehead Hal.Whitehead at Dal.Ca
Sat Mar 18 07:34:01 PDT 2017

My coauthors and I are pleased to announce the publication of:

Whitehead, H., F. Vachon and T.R. Frasier. 2017. Cultural hitchhiking in the matrilineal whales. Behavior Genetics 


Five species of whale with matrilineal social systems (daughters remain with mothers) have remarkably low levels of mitochondrial DNA diversity. Non-heritable matriline-level demography could reduce genetic diversity but the required conditions are not consistent with the natural histories of the matrilineal whales. The diversity of nuclear microsatellites is little reduced in the matrilineal whales arguing against bottlenecks. Selective sweeps of the
mitochondrial genome are feasible causes but it is not clear why these only occurred in the matrilineal species. Cultural hitchhiking (cultural selection reducing diversity at neutral genetic loci transmitted in parallel to the culture) is supported in sperm whales which possess suitable matrilineal socio-cultural groups (coda clans). Killer whales are delineated into ecotypes which likely originated culturally. Culture, bottlenecks and selection, as well as their interactions, operating between- or within-ecotypes, may have reduced their mitochondrial diversity. The societies, cultures and genetics of false killer and two pilot whale species are insufficiently known to assess drivers of low mitochondrial diversity.

A pdf is available at the lab. website:


Hal Whitehead
Dalhousie University

More information about the MARMAM mailing list