, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 304-311
Date: 21 Jan 2004

Examining natural population growth from near extinction: the case of the Antarctic fur seal at the South Shetlands, Antarctica

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Abstract

This study examined the recovery process of an Antarctic fur-seal population, starting from minimal numbers after commercial exploitation to the now largest breeding population in the South Shetland Archipelago, Cape Shirreff and San Telmo Islets. It used direct census data from 20 breeding seasons (including 11 consecutive years) that spanned over 45 years. Since early population estimates, pup production increased at an intrinsic rate of ca. 20% which, during the last decade, dramatically slowed to 4.6%. The population-change trajectory is currently converging into a tightly bounded oscillation around an apparent equilibrium (carrying capacity), which is an order of magnitude lower than those levels before exploitation began. This pattern suggests the onset of an alternative stable state and highlights the far-reaching implications of strong and large-scale perturbations on marine systems.