River Cetaceans and Habitat Change: Generalist Resilience or Specialist Vulnerability?

Brian D. Smith, Randall R. Reeves
2012 Journal of Marine Biology  
River dolphins are among the world's most threatened mammals, and indeed the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer), a species endemic to China's Yangtze River, is likely extinct. Exploitation for products such as meat, oil, and skins has been a lesser feature in the population histories of river dolphins compared to most large mammals. Habitat factors are therefore of particular interest and concern. In this paper we attempt to describe the population-level responses of river dolphins to habitat
more » ... tion. We find circumstantial but compelling evidence supporting the view that, at a local scale, river dolphins are opportunists (generalists) capable of adapting to a wide range of habitat conditions while, at a river basin scale, they are more appropriately viewed as vulnerable specialists. The same evidence implies that the distributional responses of river dolphins to basinwide ecological change can be informative about their extinction risk, while their local behaviour patterns may provide important insights about critical ecological attributes. Empirical studies are needed on the ecology of river cetaceans, both to inform conservation efforts on behalf of these threatened animals and to help address broader concerns related to biodiversity conservation and the sustainability of human use in several of the world's largest river systems.
doi:10.1155/2012/718935 fatcat:dmg2udwwcbbprjrt6vj2zltjyi