Temporal changes in Weddell seal dive behavior over winter: are females increasing foraging effort to support gestation?

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Shero, Michelle R.
Goetz, Kimberly T.
Costa, Daniel P.
Burns, Jennifer M.
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aerobic capacity
aerobic dive limit
dive behavior
marine mammals
In capital‐breeding marine mammals, prey acquisition during the foraging trip coinciding with gestation must provide energy to meet the immediate needs of the growing fetus and also a store to meet the subsequent demands of lactation. Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii) that give birth following the gestational (winter) foraging period gain similar proportions of mass and lipid as compared to females that fail to give birth. Therefore, any changes in foraging behavior can be attributed to gestational costs. To investigate differences in foraging effort associated with successful reproduction, twenty‐three satellite tags were deployed on post‐molt female Weddell seals in the Ross Sea. Of the 20 females that returned to the area the following year, 12 females gave birth and eight did not. Females that gave birth the following year began the winter foraging period with significantly longer and deeper dives, as compared to non‐reproductive seals. Mid‐ to late winter, reproductive females spent a significantly greater proportion of the day diving, and either depressed their diving metabolic rates (DMR), or exceeded their calculated aerobic dive limit (cADL) more frequently than females that returned without a pup. Moreover, non‐reproductive females organized their dives into 2–3 short bouts per day on average (BOUTshort; 7.06 ± 1.29 hr; mean ± 95% CI), whereas reproductive females made 1–2 BOUTshort per day (10.9 ± 2.84 hr), comprising one long daily foraging bout without rest. The magnitude of the increase in dive activity budgets and depression in calculated DMR closely matched the estimated energetic requirements of supporting a fetus. This study is one of the first to identify increases in foraging effort that are associated with successful reproduction in a top predator and indicates that reproductive females must operate closer to their physiological limits to support gestational costs.
© The Author(s), 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License. The definitive version was published in Ecology and Evolution, 8(23), (2018): 11857-11874. doi: 10.1002/ece3.4643.
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Shero, M. R., Goetz, K. T., Costa, D. P., & Burns, J. M. (2018). Temporal changes in Weddell seal dive behavior over winter: Are females increasing foraging effort to support gestation? Ecology and Evolution, 8(23), 11857-11874.
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