The Influences of Environment, Mating Habitat, and Predation on Evolution of Pinniped Lactation Strategies


DOI: 10.1007/s10914-005-9003-1

Cite this article as:
Ferguson, S.H. J Mammal Evol (2006) 13: 63. doi:10.1007/s10914-005-9003-1

Seals have adapted their social systems and lactation strategies to marine environments that include open and ice-covered oceans, high and low productivity, extremes in seasonality, and ocean- and terrestrial-type predators. Different explanations for the variation in pinniped lactation systems have been proposed but tests of alternative hypotheses have not sufficiently accounted for phylogeny and body size. After controlling for this variation, I predicted that environment, mating habitat, and predation would yield a fuller explanation. Lactation traits, duration, pup growth rate, and fat content were significantly influenced by both body size and phylogeny, which together explained 20–69% of the variation. After controlling for this variation, initial results did not support the environment hypothesis, as no differences in lactation traits were found between species living in polar (≥60°N) versus equatorial (<60°N) environments. In contrast, seals that nurse in areas of Arctic sea ice contending with ice-hunting predators, such as polar bears, had relatively short lactation compared to species living in the Antarctic and more equatorial regions. Also, the availability of predator-free islands for terrestrial mating and parturition was related to a harem mating system, increased sexual size dimorphism (SSD), and slow juvenile growth rates, less fat in milk, and longer lactation. Using structural equation modeling, latitude and size of harems provided independent explanations for all three lactation traits. Thus, use of islands in ice-free waters, predation in Arctic ice-covered waters, and more milk fat in high-latitude seals together provided adequate explanations for the evolution of lactation diversity among pinnipeds.


Body size comparative method independent contrasts latitude path analysis seasonality sea ice seals sexual size dimorphism structural equation modeling temperature 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Fisheries & OceansWinnipegCanada

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