Genetic tagging reveals extreme site fidelity in territorial male Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella
Genetic tagging, the identification of individuals using their genotypes, provides a powerful tool for studying animals that are difficult to observe or identify using conventional techniques. However, despite being widely adopted by conservation biologists, the full potential of this approach has yet to be realized. Here we used genetic recapture data to quantify male site fidelity at a colony of Antarctic fur seals where an aerial walkway provides unprecedented access and individual positions are determined daily to 1 m accuracy. Because males are too large and aggressive to be captured and fitted with conventional tags, we remotely collected 770 tissue samples over eight consecutive seasons and used nine-locus microsatellite genotypes to reveal 306 genetic recaptures among 464 unique individuals. Within seasons, males are highly site-faithful, with any movements that occur tending to take place before the period when females come into oestrus. Of those males that return to breed over successive seasons, almost half return to within a body length of where they were before. The discovery of such extreme site faithfulness has implications for the population structure and mating system of fur seals and potentially other colonially breeding species.
Authors: Hoffman, J.I., Trathan, P.N. ORCID record for P.N. Trathan, Amos, W.