Foraging strategies of Southern sea lion females in the La Plata River Estuary (Argentina–Uruguay)
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The stocks of Southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens, SSL) and South American fur seals (SAFS) that breed on coastal islands of Uruguay constitute the most important focal concentration of pinnipeds in South America, with a significant increase in SAFS and a steady decrease of SSL over the past decades. Because females are a key element of population dynamics and no information exists on the post-breeding pup rearing period, we studied the foraging patterns of SSL females in the La Plata River Estuary (LPRE) during mid and late lactation (late austral autumn and winter), analyzing the foraging performance, geographic coverage and ontogenetic differences in foraging strategies for a period of 1-5 months. At-sea movements of 22 SSL females (6 subadults and 16 adults) from Isla de Lobos (IL, 35°01'28"S-54°52'59"W, Uruguay) were monitored using satellite transmitters (SPOT4, SPOT5 and STDR-S16, Wildlife Computers) in 2007 and 2010. An algorithm [McConnell, B.J., Chambers, C., Fedak, M.A., 1992. Foraging ecology of southern elephant seals in relation to the bathymetry and productivity of the Southern Ocean. Antarct. Sci. 4, 393-398.] with a maximum transit speed of 3ms-1 was applied to the Argos information, resulting in a total of 2522 filtered locations. A daily mean of 3.5±1.74 filtered locations per animal was received. One hundred and eighty three foraging trips (FT) were recorded with no significant differences (p<0.05) between subadults and adults in the duration of FT (6.1±3.15 day), distance traveled per FT (237.2±105.25km), mean distance from IL (57.2±25.90km), maximum straight line (Spider) distance (100.2±41.40km) and transit speed (1.1±1.04ms-1). SSL showed directional fidelity to foraging sites, indicated by high mean vector (r) values (0.74±0.14) calculated from FT mean bearings. Kernel ranges for 50% and 95% of all FT locations were 5420km2 and 36,222km2, respectively, and the extension of the foraging areas appeared to be influenced by a combination of bathymetry and ecological boundaries within LPRE. Regardless of their reproductive condition, females showed a strong fidelity to IL, and their foraging activity was restricted to relatively shallow areas (10-100m) on the continental shelf. During autumn and winter, SSL females made significantly longer FTs than during the breeding season, when lactating females decrease FT duration by increasing transit speed but maintain a similar spatial coverage compared with FT later in lactation. Although several aquatic areas of high priority for conservation in LPRE have been identified and proposed, only 15% of the foraging habitat of SSL females is currently included in these areas. This emphasizes the importance of the inclusion of the at-sea foraging distributions of central point foragers in marine protected areas. If conservation efforts focus only on coastal breeding concentrations, key elements of the life cycle are excluded with potential unpredictable effects. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
author list (cited authors)
Rodríguez, D. H., Dassis, M., de León, A. P., Barreiro, C., Farenga, M., Bastida, R. O., & Davis, R. W.