Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

, Volume 62, Issue 2, pp 159–171 | Cite as

The cost of success: reproductive effort in male southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina)

  • Filippo GalimbertiEmail author
  • Simona Sanvito
  • Chiara Braschi
  • Luigi Boitani
Original Paper


Reproductive effort is a key parameter of life history because it measures the resources allocated to reproduction at the expense of growth and maintenance. Male reproductive effort always had a minor role with respect to female effort both in the development of theories and in field research. Elephant seals are an ideal subject for reproductive effort studies because they fast during the breeding season, splitting the phase of energy acquisition from the phase of energy use for breeding. In this paper, we present results on male reproductive effort (weight loss estimated by photogrammetry) in southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina), the most dimorphic and polygynous of all mammal species. We show that total reproductive effort increases with age, with no sign of late decrease or senescence. Male reproductive effort in this species depends mostly on behavioral factors, i.e., the success in competition with other males, and the intensity of interaction with females. A large effort results in large gains in both mating success and fertilizations. The large reproductive success that a few males are able to achieve come at a big cost in terms of energy expenditure, but this cost does not seem to affect the likelihood of survival to the following breeding season.


Reproductive effort Body size Male competition Reproductive success Southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina Falkland Islands 



We would like to thank C. and A. Galimberti for their long-lasting support of our researches on elephant seals, the Falkland Islands Government for the research licence, the Falkland Islands Development Corporation for letting us do the field work at Sea Lion Island, Mr. D. Gray and Miss Jenny Luxton for their help with the logistics. Many people helped us in the field, too many to be mentioned here, we wish to thank them all. Our research at Sea Lion Island was partially funded by Earthwatch Institute grants and by Strachan Visick Ltd. The comments of the Editor, Dr. Vincent Janik, and of two anonymous Referees greatly improved the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Filippo Galimberti
    • 1
    • 4
    Email author
  • Simona Sanvito
    • 1
    • 2
  • Chiara Braschi
    • 3
  • Luigi Boitani
    • 3
  1. 1.Elephant Seal Research GroupSea Lion IslandFalklands Islands
  2. 2.Department of BiologyMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada
  3. 3.Department of Animal BiologyUniversity of Rome “La Sapienza”RomeItaly
  4. 4.Laboratorio de Ecología Molecular, Facultad de Ciencias MarinasUniversidad Autónoma de Baja CaliforniaEnsenadaMexico

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