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Female Steller sea lions tend to breed near their birthplace

Familiarity with other females, geography may be crucial for reproduction

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Credit: David B. Ledig/USFWS

Female Steller sea lions tend to breed at or near the rookery where they were born, according to a study published June 7, 2017 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Hastings from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, USA, and colleagues.

Understanding the patterns of dispersal for an animal species is critical for measuring changes in the population, which helps with conservation efforts. Previous studies have shown that Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) males tend to disperse more frequently than the females, however, little is known about the movements of breeding females.

The authors of the present study monitored 369 Steller sea lion females that had been marked as pups in the rookeries where they were born in southeastern Alaska, gathering observation and recapture data between 2001 and 2015 to assess how frequently breeding females switched rookery.

The researchers found that most female sea lions tended to breed at the rookeries where they were born, with fewer than 3 percent switching rookeries between years. When female sea lions did move to another rookery before breeding, they tended to select rookeries that were nearby and had a higher population of other sea lions.

Female sea lions' tendency to breed in the location where they were born could suggest that familiarity with neighboring females and knowledge of the topography of the site (for both giving birth to pups and foraging) could be crucial components of their reproduction and thus, the conservation of their species.

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In your coverage please use this URL to provide access to the freely available article in PLOS ONE: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0176840

Citation: Hastings KK, Jemison LA, Pendleton GW, Raum-Suryan KL, Pitcher KW (2017) Natal and breeding philopatry of female Steller sea lions in southeastern Alaska. PLoS ONE 12(6): e0176840. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0176840
Image Credit: David B. Ledig/USFWS

Funding: Funding for this research was provided to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game by the State of Alaska and by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Alaska Region, through awards NA17FX1079, NA04NMF4390170, NA08NMF4390544, NA11NMF4390200, and NA15NMF4390170. The funders had no role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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