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1.  Genetic and historic evidence for climate-driven population fragmentation in a top cetacean predator: the harbour porpoises in European water 
Recent climate change has triggered profound reorganization in northeast Atlantic ecosystems, with substantial impact on the distribution of marine assemblages from plankton to fishes. However, assessing the repercussions on apex marine predators remains a challenging issue, especially for pelagic species. In this study, we use Bayesian coalescent modelling of microsatellite variation to track the population demographic history of one of the smallest temperate cetaceans, the harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in European waters. Combining genetic inferences with palaeo-oceanographic and historical records provides strong evidence that populations of harbour porpoises have responded markedly to the recent climate-driven reorganization in the eastern North Atlantic food web. This response includes the isolation of porpoises in Iberian waters from those further north only approximately 300 years ago with a predominant northward migration, contemporaneous with the warming trend underway since the ‘Little Ice Age’ period and with the ongoing retreat of cold-water fishes from the Bay of Biscay. The extinction or exodus of harbour porpoises from the Mediterranean Sea (leaving an isolated relict population in the Black Sea) has lacked a coherent explanation. The present results suggest that the fragmentation of harbour distribution range in the Mediterranean Sea was triggered during the warm ‘Mid-Holocene Optimum’ period (approx. 5000 years ago), by the end of the post-glacial nutrient-rich ‘Sapropel’ conditions that prevailed before that time.
PMCID: PMC2981983  PMID: 20444724
cetacean; climate change; habitat fragmentation; population genetics; coalescence
2.  Long-term feeding ecology and habitat use in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from Scandinavian waters inferred from trace elements and stable isotopes 
BMC Ecology  2007;7:1.
We investigated the feeding ecology and habitat use of 32 harbour porpoises by-caught in 4 localities along the Scandinavian coast from the North Sea to the Barents Sea using time-integrative markers: stable isotopes (δ13C, δ15N) and trace elements (Zn, Cu, Fe, Se, total Hg and Cd), in relation to habitat characteristics (bathymetry) and geographic position (latitude).
Among the trace elements analysed, only Cd, with an oceanic specific food origin, was found to be useful as an ecological tracer. All other trace elements studied were not useful, most likely because of physiological regulation and/or few specific sources in the food web. The δ13C, δ15N signatures and Cd levels were highly correlated with each other, as well as with local bathymetry and geographic position (latitude). Variation in the isotopic ratios indicated a shift in harbour porpoise's feeding habits from pelagic prey species in deep northern waters to more coastal and/or demersal prey in the relatively shallow North Sea and Skagerrak waters. This result is consistent with stomach content analyses found in the literature. This shift was associated with a northward Cd-enrichment which provides further support to the Cd 'anomaly' previously reported in polar waters and suggests that porpoises in deep northern waters include Cd-contaminated prey in their diet, such as oceanic cephalopods.
As stable isotopes and Cd provide information in the medium and the long term respectively, the spatial variation found, shows that harbour porpoises experience different ecological regimes during the year along the Scandinavian coasts, adapting their feeding habits to local oceanographic conditions, without performing extensive migration.
PMCID: PMC1781931  PMID: 17229317
3.  Trace metal concentrations in Posidonia oceanica of North Corsica (northwestern Mediterranean Sea): use as a biological monitor? 
BMC Ecology  2006;6:12.
Within semi-closed areas like the Mediterranean Sea, anthropic wastes tend to concentrate in the environment. Metals, in particular, are known to persist in the environment and can affect human health due to accumulation in the food chain. The seagrass Posidonia oceanica, widely found in Mediterranean coastal waters, has been chosen as a "sentinel" to quantify the distribution of such pollutants within the marine environment. Using a technique similar to dendrochronology in trees, it can act as an indicator of pollutant levels over a timeframe of several months to years. In the present study, we measured and compared the levels of eight trace metals (Cr, Ni, Cu, Zn, As, Se, Cd, and Pb) in sheaths dated by lepidochronology and in leaves of shoots sampled from P. oceanica meadows collected from six offshore sites in northern Corsica between 1988 and 2004; in the aim to determine 1) the spatial and 2) temporal variations of these metals in these areas and 3) to compared these two types of tissues.
We found low trace metal concentrations with no increase over the last decade, confirming the potential use of Corsican seagrass beds as reference sites for the Mediterranean Sea. Temporal trends of trace metal concentrations in sheaths were not significant for Cr, Ni, Cu, As or Se, but Zn, Cd, and Pb levels decreased, probably due to the reduced anthropic use of these metals. Similar temporal trends between Cu levels in leaves (living tissue) and in sheaths (dead tissue) demonstrated that lepidochronology linked with Cu monitoring is effective for surveying the temporal variability of this metal.
Leaves of P. oceanica can give an indication of the metal concentration in the environment over a short time period (months) with good accuracy. On the contrary, sheaths, which gave an indication of changes over long time periods (decades), seem to be less sensitive to variations in the metal concentration in the environment. Changes in human consumption of metals (e.g., the reduction of Pb in fuel) are clearly reflected in both organs. These results confirm that P. oceanica is a good bioindicator of metals and a good biomonitor species for assessing Cu in the environment.
PMCID: PMC1584234  PMID: 16965615
4.  Zn, Cu, Cd and Hg binding to metallothioneins in harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the southern North Sea 
BMC Ecology  2006;6:2.
Harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena from the southern North Sea are known to display high levels of Zn and Hg in their tissues linked to their nutritional status (emaciation). The question arises regarding a potential role of metallothioneins (MTs) with regard to these high metal levels. In the present study, metallothionein detection and associated Zn, Cd, Cu and Hg concentrations were investigated in the liver and kidney of 14 harbour porpoises collected along the Belgian coast.
Metallothioneins seemed to play a key role in essential metal homeostasis, as they were shown to bind 50% of the total hepatic Zn and 36% of the total hepatic Cu concentrations. Renal MTs also participated in Cd detoxification, as they were shown to bind 56% of the total renal Cd. Hg was mainly found in the insoluble fraction of both liver and kidney. Concomitant increases in total Zn concentration and Zn bound to MTs were observed in the liver, whereas Zn concentration bound to high molecular weight proteins remained constant. Cu, Zn and Cd were accumulated preferentially in the MT fraction and their content in this fraction increased with the amount in the hepatocytosol.
MTs have a key role in Zn and Cu homeostasis in harbour porpoises. We demonstrated that increasing hepatic Zn concentration led to an increase in Zn linked to MTs, suggesting that these small proteins take over the Zn overload linked to the poor body condition of debilitated harbour porpoises.
PMCID: PMC1434725  PMID: 16464247
5.  Posidonia oceanica meadow: a low nutrient high chlorophyll (LNHC) system? 
BMC Ecology  2002;2:9.
In spite of very low nutrient concentrations in its vicinity – both column and pore waters-, the Posidonia oceanica of the Revellata Bay displays high biomass and productivity. We measured the nutrient fluxes from the sediment into the water enclosed among the leaf shoots ("canopy water") to determine if it is possible source of nutrients for P. oceanica leaves.
During the summer, the canopy water appears to act as a nutrient reservoir for the plant. During that period, the canopy water layer displays both a temperature 0.5°C cooler than the upper water column, and a much higher nutrient content, as shown in this work using a very simple original technique permitting to sample water with a minimal disturbance of the water column's vertical structure.
Despite low nutrient concentrations in pore water, mean net fluxes were measured from the sediment to the canopy water. These fluxes are sufficient to provide 20% of the mean daily nitrogen and phosphorus requirement of the P. oceanica shoots.
An internal cycling of nutrients from P. oceanica senescent leaves was previously noted as an efficient strategy to help face low nutrient availability. The present study points out a second strategy which consists in holding back, in the canopy, the nutrients released at the water-sediment interface. This process occurs when long leaves, during poor nutrient periods in the water column, providing, to P. oceanica, the possibility to develop, high biomass, high chlorophyll quantities in low nutrient environment (a Low Nutrients High Chlorophyll system).
PMCID: PMC122073  PMID: 12188926
6.  Rise of oceanographic barriers in continuous populations of a cetacean: the genetic structure of harbour porpoises in Old World waters 
BMC Biology  2007;5:30.
Understanding the role of seascape in shaping genetic and demographic population structure is highly challenging for marine pelagic species such as cetaceans for which there is generally little evidence of what could effectively restrict their dispersal. In the present work, we applied a combination of recent individual-based landscape genetic approaches to investigate the population genetic structure of a highly mobile extensive range cetacean, the harbour porpoise in the eastern North Atlantic, with regards to oceanographic characteristics that could constrain its dispersal.
Analyses of 10 microsatellite loci for 752 individuals revealed that most of the sampled range in the eastern North Atlantic behaves as a 'continuous' population that widely extends over thousands of kilometres with significant isolation by distance (IBD). However, strong barriers to gene flow were detected in the south-eastern part of the range. These barriers coincided with profound changes in environmental characteristics and isolated, on a relatively small scale, porpoises from Iberian waters and on a larger scale porpoises from the Black Sea.
The presence of these barriers to gene flow that coincide with profound changes in oceanographic features, together with the spatial variation in IBD strength, provide for the first time strong evidence that physical processes have a major impact on the demographic and genetic structure of a cetacean. This genetic pattern further suggests habitat-related fragmentation of the porpoise range that is likely to intensify with predicted surface ocean warming.
PMCID: PMC1971045  PMID: 17651495

Results 1-6 (6)