Inter-specific and seasonal comparison of the niches occupied by small cetaceans off north-west Iberia

R. Fernandez*, C. D. MacLeod, G. J. Pierce, P. Covelo, A. Lopez, J. Torres-Palenzuela, V. Valavanis, M. B. Santos

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Knowledge of species' ecological niches can be used to assess ecological interactions between different taxa. Sixteen species of cetaceans have been recorded in Galician waters and niche partitioning is expected to occur among these species in order to allow them to co-exist. In this study, the niches occupied by five of the most commonly encountered odontocete species off Galicia (NW Iberia) were compared, based on seven ecogeographic variables, using a PCA-based methodology and Classification trees. Significant differences in niche centres and niche widths were found among all the species. During the summer, the harbour porpoise occupied the narrowest and most differentiated niche when compared to the rest of the species. Three species could be compared during the winter, when long-finned pilot whales preferred colder and less variable water temperatures than did common dolphins. Seasonal differences in habitat preferences were found for bottlenose dolphins. A higher degree of specialisation was found during the summer, resulting in stronger differences in habitat use in this season, which may be related to an increment in resource availability during the upwelling period (April-September). The PCA-based methodology used in this study provides an effective multivariate approach to explore niche partitioning between co-existing species. (c) 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)88-98
Number of pages11
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Early online date28 May 2013
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2013


  • Niche partitioning
  • Dolphins
  • Ecogeographic variables
  • GIS
  • PCA
  • Classification trees


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