Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Population genetic studies of the sea otter (Enhydra lutris): A review and interpretation of available data

January 1, 1997

Current information about the utility of genetic markers for estimating population structuring in sea otters (Enhydra lutris) is reviewed. Analyses of spatial population structuring with biochemical and molecular genetic markers are discussed in the context of the species' ecology and history of exploitation. Studies that have used a diversity of genetic markers including allozymes, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA), and multilocus minisatellites revealed that geographically spearated populations of sea otters are highly differentiated, though little evidence for phylogeographic structuring was suggested. Analyses of population relationships based on mtDNA haplotype frequency distribution suggested that populations can be separated into four major groups: (1) California; (2) Prince William Sound, Alaska; (3) Kodiak Island, Alaska, and islands of the Aleutian archipelago, including the Commander Islands; and (4) the Kuril Islands. Populations from locales separated by large geographic distances often shared haplotypes, suggesting recent common ancestry and some degree of historical gene flow. THe large differences among populations in nuclear and mtDNA gene frequency suggested strong constrains on contemporary gene flow and/or considerable drift in gene frequencies due to population bottlenecks. No evidence for microgeographic structuring was noted. Levels of genetic diversity within populations varied greatly across the species range but were not related to contemporary estimates of population size.

Publication Year 1997
Title Population genetic studies of the sea otter (Enhydra lutris): A review and interpretation of available data
Authors Kim T. Scribner, James L. Bodkin, Brenda E. Ballachey, Steven R. Fain, Matthew A. Cronin, Maria D. Sanchez
Publication Type Conference Paper
Publication Subtype Conference Paper
Index ID 70186671
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center