MEPS 273:211-225 (2004)  -  doi:10.3354/meps273211

Foraging ecology of subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis breeding on Amsterdam Island: seasonal changes in relation to maternal characteristics and pup growth

Gwénaël Beauplet1,*, Laurent Dubroca1, Christophe Guinet1, Yves Cherel1, Willy Dabin2, Céline Gagne1, Mark Hindell3

1Centre d¹Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 79360 Villiers en Bois, France
2Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins, Av. Lazaret, Port des Minimes, 17000 La Rochelle, France
3Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart 7001, Tasmania, Australia

ABSTRACT: The distribution and availability of marine resources are directly affected by seasonal spatial changes in physical and oceanographic features. They are thus likely to influence maternal foraging provisioning patterns, efficiency, and subsequent pup growth rate of central place foragers such as otariid seals. While previous studies have documented foraging locations and diving activity of female otariids in relation to oceanographic features, few have focused on species characterised by a long pup-rearing period. The present study investigated seasonal changes in foraging parameters in relation to the following oceanographic features and maternal characteristics: foraging grounds (using satellite tags, geolocation, GIS and kernel estimation techniques), at-sea activity budget (using time-depth recorders), and the foraging success and diet of female subantarctic fur seals Arctocephalus tropicalis breeding on Amsterdam Island (southern Indian Ocean). The seals mainly exploited the subtropical front, but also exhibited large differences in seasonal distribution, from short trips in restricted foraging areas during summer to widely distributed foraging grounds during the winter. This is consistent with a seasonal shift in diet and an increasing proportion of time being dedicated to diving and resting. This increase in foraging trip duration throughout the season paralleled decreasing rates in maternal mass gain and pup growth, suggesting a decrease in food availability. During the summer, maternal mass gain rate and pup growth were related to foraging tactics (percent of time spent diving and in the core foraging area), whereas maternal characteristics such as body length were more important during the latter months of the pup-rearing period. However, no influence of age and thus no apparent advantage of female experience was detected in this study.

KEY WORDS: Foraging ecology · Activity budget · Seasonal changes · Maternal performances · Pup growth · Fur seal · Arctocephalus tropicalis · Amsterdam Island

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