Demographic reconstruction of Antarctic fur seals supports the krill surplus hypothesis
Much debate surrounds the importance of top-down and bottom-up effects in the Southern Ocean, where the harvesting of over two million whales in the mid twentieth century is thought to have produced a massive surplus of Antarctic krill. This excess of krill may have allowed populations of other predators, such as seals and penguins, to increase, a top-down hypothesis known as the ‘krill surplus hypothesis’. However, a lack of pre-whaling population baselines has made it challenging to investigate historical changes in the abundance of the major krill predators in relation to whaling. Therefore, we used reduced representation sequencing and a coalescent-based maximum composite likelihood approach to reconstruct the recent demographic history of the Antarctic fur seal, a pinniped that was hunted to the brink of extinction by 18th and 19th century sealers. In line with the known history of this species, we found support for a demographic model that included a substantial reduction in population size around the time period of sealing. Furthermore, maximum likelihood estimates from this model suggest that the recovered, post-sealing population at South Georgia may have been around two times larger than the pre-sealing population. Our findings lend support to the krill surplus hypothesis and illustrate the potential of genomic approaches to shed light on long-standing questions in population biology.
Authors: Hoffman, Joseph I. ORCID record for Joseph I. Hoffman, Chen, Rebecca S., Vendrami, David L.J., Paijmans, Anna J., Dasmahapatra, Kanchon K., Forcada, Jaume ORCID record for Jaume Forcada