Habitat use and spatial fidelity of male South American sea lions during the nonbreeding period
Conditions experienced during the nonbreeding period have profound long-term effects on individual fitness and survival. Therefore, knowledge of habitat use during the nonbreeding period can provide insights into processes that regulate populations. At the Falkland Islands, the habitat use of South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens) during the nonbreeding period is of particular interest because the population is yet to recover from a catastrophic decline between the mid-1930s and 1965, and nonbreeding movements are poorly understood. Here, we assessed the habitat use of adult male (n = 13) and juvenile male (n = 6) South American sea lions at the Falkland Islands using satellite tags and stable isotope analysis of vibrissae. Male South American sea lions behaved like central place foragers. Foraging trips were restricted to the Patagonian Shelf and were typically short in distance and duration (127 ± 66 km and 4.1 ± 2.0 days, respectively). Individual male foraging trips were also typically characterized by a high degree of foraging site fidelity. However, the isotopic niche of adult males was smaller than juvenile males, which suggested that adult males were more consistent in their use of foraging habitats and prey over time. Our findings differ from male South American sea lions in Chile and Argentina, which undertake extended movements during the nonbreeding period. Hence, throughout their breeding range, male South American sea lions have diverse movement patterns during the nonbreeding period that intuitively reflects differences in the predictability or accessibility of preferred prey. Our findings challenge the long-standing notion that South American sea lions undertake a winter migration away from the Falkland Islands. Therefore, impediments to South American sea lion population recovery likely originate locally and conservation measures at a national level are likely to be effective in addressing the decline and the failure of the population to recover.
Authors: Baylis, Alastair M. M., Orben, Rachael A., Costa, Daniel P., Tierney, Megan, Brickle, Paul, Staniland, Iain J.