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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 310:77-94 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps310077

Impacts of climatic anomalies on provisioning strategies of a Southern Ocean predator

Mary-Anne Lea1,2,*, Christophe Guinet2, Yves Cherel2, Guy Duhamel3, Laurent Dubroca2, Patrice Pruvost3, Mark Hindell1

1Antarctic Wildlife Research Unit, School of Zoology, University of Tasmania, PO Box 252-05, Hobart, Tasmania 7001, Australia
2Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé UPR 1934 du-CNRS, 79360 Villiers-en-Bois, France
3Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Département des Milieux et Peuplements Aquatiques, Biodiversité et Dynamique des Communautés Aquatiques USM 403, case postale 26 43 rue Cuvier, 75005 Paris, France

ABSTRACT: The large temporal and spatial variability in marine productivity encountered by marine predators may negatively influence breeding success. The Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella (AFS), a marine predator in the Southern Ocean (SO) ecosystem with a circumpolar distribution, exhibits a short, 4 mo lactation coinciding with increased summer marine productivity. The diet of AFS, and the distance to significant and productive oceanographic features, such as the Antarctic Polar Frontal Zone (PFZ), varies considerably between populations. We studied the foraging activity, foraging efficiency and the pup provisioning strategies of lactating AFS at a key breeding site in the southern Indian Ocean, the Kerguelen Archipelago. Foraging parameters were examined in relation to interannual variability in oceanographic conditions and prey availability in the PFZ over 3 consecutive breeding seasons (1998 to 2000). The location of foraging zones, diving activity, diet and foraging efficiency varied significantly between years, concurrently with annual changes in sea-surface temperature (SST) and prey availability. The strongest recorded El Niño Southern Oscillation event in 1997–1998 coincided with anomalously warm waters in the vicinity of the Archipelago. Deeper diving by females, reduced maternal and pup body condition, and minimal pup growth rates and low catch per unit effort of the primary prey species, lanternfishes (Myctophidae) were all recorded in this period. Maternal size was positively related to the growth performance of pups only in this period, indicating the importance of age/size and/or experience in mediating environmental fluctuations. Foraging efficiency over a foraging cycle and variability in mean provisioning rates (trip duration), were identified as proxies of prey availability within the foraging range of seals, emphasising the effectiveness of the use of AFS foraging behaviour as an indicator of both food and oceanographic variability and climatic anomalies. The increasing frequency of anomalously warm SST events in sectors of the SO, however, may elicit specific behavioural responses from ‘central place foragers’ (i.e. species that return to breeding sites to feed their young) to avoid sustained poor body condition of females and their weaned offspring.

KEY WORDS: Antarctic fur seal · Polar Front · Pinniped · ENSO · Foraging · Growth · Diving · Seabird · Myctophid · Maternal care

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