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A longitudinal study of Steller sea lion natality rates in the Gulf of Alaska with comparisons to census data.


ABSTRACT: Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) numbers in the Western Distinct Population Segment are beginning to recover following the dramatic decline that began in the 1970s and ended around the turn of the century. Low female reproductive rates (natality) may have contributed to the decline and remain an issue of concern for this population. During the 2000s we found high natality among Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska indicating a healthy population. This study extends these previous estimates over an additional three years and tests for interannual variations and long-term trends. We further examine the proportions of pups to adult females observed on the rookery and nearby haulouts during the birthing season to assess whether census data can be used to estimate natality. Open robust design multistate models were built and tested using Program MARK to estimate survival, resighting, and state transition probabilities in addition to other parameters dependent on whether or not a female gave birth in the previous year. Natality was estimated at 70% with some evidence of interannual variation but a long-term increasing or decreasing trend was not supported by the data. Bootstrap and regression comparisons of census data with natality estimates revealed no correlation between the two methods suggesting that census data are not an appropriate proxy for natality in this species. Longitudinal studies of individual animals are an appropriate method for estimating vital rates in species with variable detection over time such as the Steller sea lion. This work indicates that natality remains high in this region and is consistent with a population in recovery.

SUBMITTER: Maniscalco JM 

PROVIDER: S-EPMC4226517 | BioStudies | 2014-01-01

SECONDARY ACCESSION(S): 10.1371/journal.pone.0111523

REPOSITORIES: biostudies

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