Mitochondrial control region haplotypes of the South American sea lion Otaria flavescens (Shaw, 1800)
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The South American sea lion, Otaria flavescens, is widely distributed along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America. However, along the Brazilian coast, there are only two nonbreeding sites for the species (Refúgio de Vida Silvestre da Ilha dos Lobos and Refúgio de Vida Silvestre do Molhe Leste da Barra do Rio Grande), both in Southern Brazil. In this region, the species is continuously under the effect of anthropic activities, mainly those related to environmental contamination with organic and inorganic chemicals and fishery interactions. This paper reports, for the first time, the genetic diversity of O. flavescens found along the Southern Brazilian coast. A 287-bp fragment of the mitochondrial DNA control region (D-loop) was analyzed. Seven novel haplotypes were found in 56 individuals (OFA1-OFA7), with OFA1 being the most frequent (47.54%). Nucleotide diversity was moderate (π = 0.62%) and haplotype diversity was relatively low (67%). Furthermore, the median joining network analysis indicated that Brazilian haplotypes formed a reciprocal monophyletic clade when compared to the haplotypes from the Peruvian population on the Pacific coast. These two populations do not share haplotypes and may have become isolated some time back. Further genetic studies covering the entire species distribution are necessary to better understand the biological implications of the results reported here for the management and conservation of South American sea lions.