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Lunar cycles in diel prey migrations exert a stronger effect on the diving of juveniles than adult Gal pagos fur seals

Markus Horning, Fritz Trillmich


In our study of the development of diving in Gal pagos fur seals, we analysed changes in diving activity and body mass trends over the lunar cycle. Based on previously observed lunar cycles in colony attendance patterns, we hypothesized a greater impact of prey migrations of deep scattering layer organisms on younger fur seals. Using electronic dive recorders, we determined that seals dived less and deeper on moonlit nights than at new moon, and incurred body mass losses. These changes in foraging over the lunar cycle correlate with the suppression of the vertical migration of prey by lunar light. All effects were more pronounced in juveniles than adult females, with greater relative mass loss during full moon, which must (i) negatively affect long-term juvenile growth rates, (ii) lengthen periods of maternal dependence, and (iii) contribute to the lowest reproductive rate reported for seals. This underlines the importance of studying ontogeny in order to understand life histories, and for determining the susceptibility of animal populations to fluctuations in food availability.

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