Foraging behaviour of juvenile female New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) in contrasting environments

Leung, Elaine S., Auge, Amelie A., Chilvers, B. Louise, Moore, Antoni B., and Robertson, Bruce C. (2013) Foraging behaviour of juvenile female New Zealand sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) in contrasting environments. PLoS ONE, 8 (5). e62728. pp. 1-10.

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Foragers can show adaptive responses to changes within their environment through morphological and behavioural plasticity. We investigated the plasticity in body size, at sea movements and diving behaviour of juvenile female New Zealand (NZ) sea lions (Phocarctos hookeri) in two contrasting environments. The NZ sea lion is one of the rarest pinnipeds in the world. Most of the species is based at the subantarctic Auckland Islands (AI; considered to be marginal foraging habitat), with a recolonizing population on the Otago Peninsula, NZ mainland (considered to be more optimal habitat). We investigated how juvenile NZ sea lions adjust their foraging behaviour in contrasting environments by deploying satellite-linked platform transmitting terminals (PTTs) and time-depth recorders (TDRs) on 2–3 year-old females at AI (2007–2010) and Otago (2009–2010). Juvenile female NZ sea lions exhibited plasticity in body size and behaviour. Otago juveniles were significantly heavier than AI juveniles. Linear mixed effects models showed that study site had the most important effect on foraging behaviour, while mass and age had little influence. AI juveniles spent more time at sea, foraged over larger areas, and dove deeper and longer than Otago juveniles. It is difficult to attribute a specific cause to the observed contrasts in foraging behaviour because these differences may be driven by disparities in habitat/prey characteristics, conspecific density levels or interseasonal variation. Nevertheless, the smaller size and increased foraging effort of AI juveniles, combined with the lower productivity in this region, support the hypothesis that AI are less optimal habitat than Otago. It is more difficult for juveniles to forage in suboptimal habitats given their restricted foraging ability and lower tolerance for food limitation compared to adults. Thus, effective management measures should consider the impacts of low resource environments, along with changes that can alter food availability such as potential resource competition with fisheries.

Item ID: 28029
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1932-6203
Funders: New Zealand Department of Conservation (DOC)
Projects and Grants: 1638
Date Deposited: 10 Jul 2013 00:07
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0602 Ecology > 060201 Behavioural Ecology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960801 Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 30%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960808 Marine Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity @ 70%
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