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Title: Demography and breeding phenology of a marine top predator
Author: Cordes, Line Søltoft
ISNI:       0000 0004 2722 7096
Awarding Body: University of Aberdeen
Current Institution: University of Aberdeen
Date of Award: 2011
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Worldwide harbour seal populations are showing differing and fluctuating trends in abundance, but the drivers of change remain uncertain. Within the Moray Firth, NE Scotland, count surveys carried out over the last 20 years highlighted the development of a new breeding site, providing a unique opportunity to carry out an individual-based study of harbour seal demography and pupping phenology using photo-identification techniques within a mark-recapture framework. Sightings of individual seals suggested that a large proportion of harbour seals are year-round residents at haul-out sites. Both sexes displayed high levels of between-year breeding site fidelity as well as seasonal variation in their haul-out behaviour. Apparent sex-specific survival rates (0.89♂, 0.97♀) and birth rates (0.88) were high. There was a strong correlation between lactation durations and the timing of pupping, suggesting that shifts in pupping phenology are a result of energetic constraints. This highlights the potential for using the timing of pupping as an indicator of ecosystem conditions. This study provided the first concurrent real-time estimates of survival and fecundity in a naturally regulated population of harbour seals. Demographic parameters and physiological responses indicate that prevailing conditions within the Moray Firth are favourable, and that this population should be recovering. However, observed patterns may also be an artefact of the long-term decline having caused an increase in per capita food availability through the reduction in intra-specific competition. This study highlights the current and long-term importance of individual-based data in understanding population dynamics. Through the identification of sentinel sites around the world, harbour seals could provide a single-species indicator of coastal ecosystem conditions in the Northern Hemisphere.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Harbor seal ; Seals (Animals) ; Population dynamics