Fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) mitogenomics: A cautionary tale of defining sub-species from mitochondrial sequence monophyly

Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution
Andrea A CabreraMartine Bérubé


The advent of massive parallel sequencing technologies has resulted in an increase of studies based upon complete mitochondrial genome DNA sequences that revisit the taxonomic status within and among species. Spatially distinct monophyly in such mitogenomic genealogies, i.e., the sharing of a recent common ancestor among con-specific samples collected in the same region has been viewed as evidence for subspecies. Several recent studies in cetaceans have employed this criterion to suggest subsequent intraspecific taxonomic revisions. We reason that employing intra-specific, spatially distinct monophyly at non-recombining, clonally inherited genomes is an unsatisfactory criterion for defining subspecies based upon theoretical (genetic drift) and practical (sampling effort) arguments. This point was illustrated by a re-analysis of a global mitogenomic assessment of fin whales, Balaenoptera physalus spp., published by Archer et al. (2013), which proposed to further subdivide the Northern Hemisphere fin whale subspecies, B. p. physalus. The proposed revision was based upon the detection of spatially distinct monophyly among North Atlantic and North Pacific fin whales in a genealogy based upon complete mitochondrial genome DNA sequen...Continue Reading


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