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ESR 28:209-223 (2015)  -  DOI:

Inter-year variation in pup production of Caspian seals Pusa caspica 2005–2012 determined from aerial surveys

Lilia Dmitrieva1,*, Tero Härkönen2, Mirgaliy Baimukanov3, Anders Bignert2, Ivar Jüssi4, Mart Jüssi4, Yesbol Kasimbekov3, Mikhail Verevkin5, Vadim Vysotskiy6, Susan Wilson7, Simon J. Goodman1,*

1School of Biology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
2Swedish Museum of Natural History, Box 50007, Stockholm 10405, Sweden
3Institute of Hydrobiology & Ecology, Karasaysky Raion, Almaty 040916, Kazakhstan
4Estonian Fund for Nature, PO Box 245, Tartu 50002, Estonia
5St. Petersburg State University, Universitetskaya nab.7/9, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
6Zoological Institute, RAS, Universitetskaja nab. 1, St. Petersburg 199034, Russia
7Tara Seal Research, Killyleagh, Co. Down BT30 9QN, UK

ABSTRACT: Assessing species abundance and reproductive output is crucial for evaluations of population dynamics, conservation status and the development of management objectives. The Caspian seal Pusa caspica is a key predator in the Caspian Sea ecosystem and is listed as Endangered by the IUCN. Here we report on fixed-wing aerial strip transect surveys of the breeding population on the Caspian Sea winter ice field carried out in February, 2005-2012. Potential detection biases were estimated by applying a Petersen mark–recapture estimator to the counts from double photographic observations. We also tested for effects of weather conditions on count results, and for correlations between pup production and ice conditions and net primary productivity (npp). Fluctuations in pup production estimates were observed among years, ranging from 8200 pups (95% CI: 7130-9342) in 2010 to 34000 (95% CI: 31275-36814) in 2005. Total adults on the ice ranged from 14500 in 2010 to 66300 in 2012. We did not detect significant associations between pup production and either ice summary data (ice season length and ice area) or npp. The observed inter-year variation may be partly due to underlying biological drivers influencing the fecundity of the population, although measurement errors arising from observation bias, plus variation in survey timing and weather conditions may also have contributed. Identifying the potential drivers of Caspian seal population dynamics will require extending both the survey time series and the quality of supporting data. However, inter-year fluctuations should still cause concern that the population may be vulnerable to environmental variability and ecosystem dynamics.

KEY WORDS: Caspian Sea · Kazakhstan · Russian Federation · Pinniped · Marine mammals · Abundance · Strip survey · Mark–recapture

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Cite this article as: Dmitrieva L, Härkönen T, Baimukanov M, Bignert A and others (2015) Inter-year variation in pup production of Caspian seals Pusa caspica 2005–2012 determined from aerial surveys. Endang Species Res 28:209-223.

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