High mortality rates in a juvenile free‐ranging marine predator and links to dive and forage ability

Type Article
Date 2020-01
Language English
Author(s) Cox Samantha1, 2, 3, Authier Matthieu4, 5, Orgeret Florian1, Weimerskirch Henri1, Guinet Christophe1
Affiliation(s) 1 : Centre d'Etudes Biologique de Chizé UMR 7372 ‐ CNRS , Universitié de La Rochelle Villiers‐en‐Bois ,France
2 : UMR MARBEC Station Ifremer Séte Séte, France
3 : Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), Toulouse, France
4 : Observatoire PELAGIS UMS 3462 ‐ Universitié de La Rochelle ; CNRS La Rochelle ,France
5 : ADERA Pessac Cedex ,France
Source Ecology And Evolution (2045-7758) (Wiley), 2020-01 , Vol. 10 , N. 1 , P. 410-430
DOI 10.1002/ece3.5905
WOS© Times Cited 10
Keyword(s) bio-logging, early life, foraging ecology, juvenile mortality, Mirounga leonina, southern elephant seal, survival analyses

High juvenile mortality rates are typical of many long‐lived marine vertebrate predators. Insufficient development in dive and forage ability is considered a key driver of this. However, direct links to survival outcome are sparse, particularly in free‐ranging marine animals that may not return to land.

In this study, we conduct exploratory investigations toward early mortality in juvenile southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina. Twenty postweaning pups were equipped with (a) a new‐generation satellite relay data tag, capable of remotely transmitting fine‐scale behavioral movements from accelerometers, and (b) a location transmitting only tag (so that mortality events could be distinguished from device failures). Individuals were followed during their first trip at sea (until mortality or return to land). Two analyses were conducted. First, the behavioral movements and encountered environmental conditions of nonsurviving pups were individually compared to temporally concurrent observations from grouped survivors. Second, common causes of mortality were investigated using Cox's proportional hazard regression and penalized shrinkage techniques.

Nine individuals died (two females and seven males) and 11 survived (eight females and three males). All but one individual died before the return phase of their first trip at sea, and all but one were negatively buoyant. Causes of death were variable, although common factors included increased horizontal travel speeds and distances, decreased development in dive and forage ability, and habitat type visited (lower sea surface temperatures and decreased total [eddy] kinetic energy).

For long‐lived marine vertebrate predators, such as the southern elephant seal, the first few months of life following independence represent a critical period, when small deviations in behavior from the norm appear sufficient to increase mortality risk. Survival rates may subsequently be particularly vulnerable to changes in climate and environment, which will have concomitant consequences on the demography and dynamics of populations.

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Cox Samantha, Authier Matthieu, Orgeret Florian, Weimerskirch Henri, Guinet Christophe (2020). High mortality rates in a juvenile free‐ranging marine predator and links to dive and forage ability. Ecology And Evolution, 10(1), 410-430. Publisher's official version : https://doi.org/10.1002/ece3.5905 , Open Access version : https://archimer.ifremer.fr/doc/00598/71016/