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Marine Ecology Progress Series

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MEPS 453:279-296 (2012)  -  DOI:

Age, body mass and environmental variation shape the foraging ontogeny of Galapagos sea lions

Jana W. E. Jeglinski1, Christiane Werner2, Patrick W. Robinson3, Daniel P. Costa3, Fritz Trillmich1

1Department of Animal Behaviour, University of Bielefeld, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany
2Department of Experimental and Systems Ecology, University of Bielefeld, 33615 Bielefeld, Germany
3Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, 95060 California, USA

ABSTRACT: Size- and age-specific physiological constraints coupled with inexperience make the transition to independent foraging in juvenile divers a crucial period with important consequences for survival, dispersal and future reproduction. Variation in environmental conditions and associated changes in food availability can additionally constrain the juvenile’s development to independence. Juvenile Galapagos sea lions Zalophus wollebaeki (GSL) represent an extreme example of these constraints owing to a low growth rate, seasonal variation in food abundance and unpredictable declines in food availability during El Niño events. Time−depth recorder (TDR) data and stable isotope data of δ15N and δ13C of known age juvenile GSL were analysed to investigate the development of diving and foraging, and a regular year was compared with an El Niño year to determine the effect of environmental change on the foraging behaviour of juvenile and adult GSL. GSL juveniles started diving activity at 12 mo of age and showed distinct juvenile-specific diving strategies that suggest there is an ontogenetic niche shift between juvenile and adult GSL foraging. Successful independent foraging, indicated by a strong decrease in δ15N ratio, started considerably later (at 18 mo of age) and was further delayed in the El Niño warm season, indicating there is an even longer dependency on maternal milk during environmentally adverse conditions. Our results suggest that prolonged maternal energetic investment buffers GSL juveniles against the constraints of diving and foraging under environmentally variable conditions and is linked to the low reproductive rate of this species.

KEY WORDS: Ontogenetic foraging niche · Diving development · Stable isotope analysis · Time−depth recorder · Environmental variability · El Niño · Zalophus wollebaeki · Life history

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Cite this article as: Jeglinski JWE, Werner C, Robinson PW, Costa DP, Trillmich F (2012) Age, body mass and environmental variation shape the foraging ontogeny of Galapagos sea lions. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 453:279-296.

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