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Ranging bull
By Adam Marcus

Think Don Giovanni was a rogue? Check out the southern elephant seal. Scientists have found a bull elephant seal that roamed some 3,200 miles in Antarctica to find mates and pass on his genes. At a port on the Falkland Islands, he sired at least 19 pups in a single season.

Southern elephant seal (Mirounga leonina).

The researchers, who used DNA testing to track the bull's amorous movements, say that such long-distance breeding trips could diversify the gene pools of local colonies. Female southern elephant seals stay close to home, clustered in harems ruled by dominant bulls.

The relative scarcity of breeding males, in theory, reduces the genetic diversity of each colony. "But if males are moving between distant colonies, then their genes are increasing the diversity of each group they join," says A. Rus Hoelzel, a molecular ecologist at England's Durham University and a co-author of the study. The findings appear in Science.

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Fabiani, A. et al. Long-range paternal gene flow in the southern elephant seal. Science 299, 676 (January 31, 2003).

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