, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp 363-375
Date: 31 May 2007

Parent–offspring and sibling conflict in Galápagos fur seals and sea lions

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Parent–offspring conflict theory is well supported by theoretical arguments. However, empirical observations are often difficult to interpret and have contradicted one of its most appealing predictions that parent and offspring should disagree over killing of nest or littermates. We present the first examples of deadly conflict between siblings of different cohorts. In Galápagos fur seals (Arctocephalus galapagoensis) and sea lions (Zalophus wollebaeki), mothers often wean their single offspring at 2 years. This leads to a situation where up to 23% of all pups are born while the older sibling is still being nursed. Younger siblings are disadvantaged by being born lighter than neonates without older still dependent siblings. Pups born while an older sib is still dependent grow less in early life (fur seal) and suffer increased early mortality (both species) through direct aggression or scramble competition with the older sibling. This effect is much stronger in years of high sea surface temperature (El Niño) indicating low marine productivity and if the older offspring is a male. In both species, mothers interfere aggressively in this conflict by defending the younger offspring. In years of El Niño, intense resistance to maternal aggression by the older offspring happens frequently in the fur seal. Such resistance against weaning can induce maternal neglect of the newborn. Given substantial year to year variation in offspring growth, maternal aggression forces weaning in the older sibling only if it has reached sufficient size to support itself by foraging. In Galápagos fur seals, pups with older siblings can either represent insurance against loss of older offspring or extra reproductive value.

Communicated by A. Schulte-Hostedde
This contribution is part of the special issue “Sibling competition and cooperation in mammals” (guest editors: Robyn Hudson and Fritz Trillmich).