Intra-sexual female agonistic behaviour of the South American sea lion (Otaria flavescens) in two colonies with different breeding substrates
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Female agonistic behaviour during pregnancy and lactation is common in several pinnipeds and has been associated to pup or territory defence. Previous studies on female agonistic behaviour in pinniped breeding groups have not usually considered the number of females per breeding group, which could influence the degree of aggressiveness. We compared female agonistic behaviour (open-mouth displays and bites) within two colonies with different breeding substrates (homogeneous, Punta Norte; heterogeneous, Pirámide) of South American sea lions using two methods: weighted means and general linear models. We found that both aggressive interaction rates were significantly affected by female density, which accounted for a greater proportion on the variability in bite rates than in open-mouth rates. Controlling for the number of females, we found with both methods that open-mouth rates were higher than bite rates within the Pirámide colony; however, no differences were found within the Punta Norte colony. In Pirámide, open-mouth rates could be used more often as threats to minimise the chances of more severe aggressions. The conclusion is that females vary their use of agonistic interactions in relation to their density in the colony with heterogeneous substrate, which may be related to the presence of limited numbers of tide pools that heightens competition for thermoregulatory resources.