Oliver Manlik
Oliver Manlik
PhD Candidate
Contact details:
+61 2 9385 2198

Room 552B, D26 Building
UNSW, Kensington 2052

Demography & Conservation Genetics of Dolphins

I am interested in various aspects of conservation biology, especially conservation genetics and demography of dolphins. Our research is in collaboration with the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit, Georgetown University, the Shark Bay Dolphin Project, and the Evoloutionary Genetics Group of the Anthropological Institute & Museum of the University of Zurich. The overall aim of this collaborative effort is to offer guidance for wildlife management of dolphin populations. My current project is on two bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops sp.) populations in Western Australia (Shark Bay & Bunbury). This project consists of two parts:

(1)   Demography & population viability analysis:

This part of the project is aimed at forecasting and comparing the viability of the two dolphin populations. Using computer models we evaluate the relative effect of various vital rates on population dynamics, and aim to identify potential threats to the viability of these populations. We also assess the importance of reproduction vs survival for population viability of dolphins—with potential wildlife management implications for other slow growing animal populations.

(2)   Conservation genetics—the genes that matter:

In the second part we investigate whether genes of the major histocompatibility complex (MHC)* are associated with certain fitness traits in the wild dolphin populations. By comparing MHC variation with long-term fitness data, such as survival and reproductive success, we hope to identify genes that matter for wildlife conservation. The goal of this research is to identify immune gene variants that may be particularly good or bad for the survival or reproduction of the dolphin populations. Do females that produce many calves have different immune gene variants than those who have few or no calves? Do dolphins prefer mates that have different immune gene variants than their own (as is the case in humans)? Do dolphins that live to old age have special genetic variants that give them a better chance to survive? These are the kinds of questions I am hoping to address with my research.

*The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) is a large group of genes in vertebrates, and plays an important role in immune defence. MHC variation has also been linked to reproductive success and mate choice in several species.


Other involvement in conservation biology:

Currently, I am serving as president and co-founder of the Sydney Society for Conservation Biology, a local chapter of the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB). I am also on the board of directors of the Oceania Section of SCB.



Professor William Sherwin

Co-Supervisors (in alphabetical order):

Associate Professor Lars Bejder (Murdoch University)

Dr Celine Frère (Universith of Exeter, UK)

Dr Michael Krützen (University of Zurich, Switzerland)

Professor Janet Mann (Georgetown University, USA)

Associate Professor Tracey Rogers


Here is a short excerpt of an Animal Planet documentary on the bottlenose dolphins of Shark Bay, featuring Janet Mann’s decades-long research:

Wild Kingdom- Dolphins in Shark Bay

For more info on the research on the dolphins at Shark Bay and Bunbury, visit the Shark Bay Dolphin Project at: http://www.monkeymiadolphins.org/ and the South West Marine Research Program (Bunbury) at: http://mucru.org/research-projects/south-west-marine-research-program/



Photo Credit: Deirdre McElligott


Map of Study Sites: Oliver Manlik & Holly Smith


Photo Credit: Deirdre McElligott


Photo Credit: Claire Daniel


Photo Credit: Deirdre McElligott