Birth-year and current-year influences on survival and recruitment rates of female Weddell seals
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In long-lived species, juvenile survival typically is lower and more variable than adult survival, and modeling such variation is important for understanding population dynamics. Variability in juvenile survival can be related to birth- or current-year influences, and the birth-year influences can be transient, persistent, or intermediate in duration. We used multi-state models and data collected from 5,459 known-aged prebreeder female Weddell seals (Leptonychotes weddellii Lesson) tagged in Erebus Bay, Antarctica from 1980–2007 to evaluate the duration of potential birth-year influences on survival rates and the importance of birth- and current-year influences on survival and recruitment rates. Survival rates differed for each birth cohort and were positively related to current-year winter sea-ice conditions. The estimated duration of birth-cohort effects on survival was intermediate (6 years) rather than transient (2 years) or permanent. Estimated survivorship from birth to 6 years of age varied among cohorts from 0.13 (SE = 0.04) to 0.42 (SE = 0.06), and averaged 0.25 (SE = 0.02). Recruitment rates (probability of transitioning from prebreeder to breeder state) varied annually but apparently were not related to birth-year conditions. Our results provide evidence that birth- and current-year conditions act in combination to influence survival. Although for many long-lived species the influences of either birth- or current-year conditions on survival are well-studied, we suggest that modeling survival rates as a function of birth- and current-year influences simultaneously could lead to better understanding of survival and improved stochastic models to project population dynamics.
KeywordsCapture-mark-recapture Environmental variability Marine mammal McMurdo Sound Pinniped Southern Ocean
This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs (Grant No. ANT-0635739 to R. A. Garrott, J. J. Rotella, and D. B. Siniff, and previous grants to D. B. Siniff and J. W. Testa). Animal handling protocol was approved by Montana State University’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (Protocol #41-05). Raytheon Polar Services Corporation, Petroleum Helicopters International, and the New York National Guard provided logistical support for field work in Antarctica. W. L. Kendall, T. E. McMahon, and D. B. Siniff and 2 anonymous reviewers provided useful comments on previous manuscript drafts. Many field assistants assisted with data collection.
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