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Population viability analysis of New Zealand sea lions, Auckland Islands, New Zealand’s sub-Antarctics: assessing relative impacts and uncertainty

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A Comment to this article was published on 19 July 2012


A common issue faced in wildlife management is how to assess the uncertainty of potential impacts on the viability of a species or population. The pup production of New Zealand (NZ) sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) has declined 50% in the last 12 years at their main breeding area, the Auckland Islands. The two major known atypical impacts on NZ sea lions are as follows: (1) the direct mortality as bycatch of trawling and (2) bacterial epizootics, which can affect reproduction and mortality. Both of these impacts include high levels of uncertainty, with fisheries data being variable due to percentage observer coverage and the effect of sea lion exclusion devises, while the timing and severity of bacterial epizootics are not predictable. In this paper, an age-structured model of the NZ sea lion population at the Auckland Islands was built to examine the predicted effects of fisheries mortality and catastrophes (bacterial epizootics), both separately and then combined, on population viability over a 100-year period using the VORTEX population viability analysis programme. These models are then compared against 15 years of empirical field data to determine the actual level of impacts being observed. Model results indicate that although naturally occurring epizootics reduce the growth rate of the population, it does not cause a decline in the Auckland Island population. However, sustained fisheries bycatch at current estimated levels, particularly considering its potential impact on adult female survival, could result in a population decline and possible functional extinction over the modelled time period.

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The work was funded by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC, Investigation no. 1638). Thanks to K. McInnes, B. Robertson S. Cooper, A. Todd and two anonymous for reviewers all provided helpful, critical reviews of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to B. Louise Chilvers.

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Chilvers, B.L. Population viability analysis of New Zealand sea lions, Auckland Islands, New Zealand’s sub-Antarctics: assessing relative impacts and uncertainty. Polar Biol 35, 1607–1615 (2012).

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