Reproductive Performance of Female Antarctic Fur Seals: The Influence of Age, Breeding Experience, Environmental Variation and Individual Quality

1. The reproductive performance of female Antarctic fur seals was examined in relation to age, reproductive experience and environmental variation over 10 consecutive years (1983-92) at Bird Island, South Georgia. 2. The age at which females first gave birth varied from 3 to 6 years; over 90% of these females were 3 or 4 years of age. We found no evidence to suggest that age at primiparity had significant effects on subsequent reproduction; however, 3-year-old primiparae were less likely to be seen in subsequent years than 4-year-old primparae which may indicate a cost, in terms of survival, for females that first give birth at an early age. 3. Age-specific reproductive rates increased rapidly from ages 2 to 6 years, reached a peak of 0.80 at 7-9 years, remained above 0.75 until 11 years and then began to decline with increasing age. 4. The mean duration of foraging trips in the current year (which was used as a measure of the availability of food resources) consistently improved models of the likelihood of pupping and of weaning success. When these trips were long (indicating reduced local food resources), females returned to the breeding beaches later, fewer females pupped, they gave birth to lighter pups and weaning success was reduced. 5. The reproductive performance of older, experienced Antarctic fur seals was greater than that of younger, inexperienced animals because they had higher natality rates, gave birth to heavier pups earlier in the season, had greater weaning success and were more likely to pup the next season.


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Authors: Lunn, N. J., Boyd, I. L., Croxall, J. P.

1 October, 1994
The Journal of Animal Ecology / 63
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