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Growth under uncertainty: The influence of marine variability on early development of Galapagos sea lions



Development implies a change in allocation of resources from somatic growth to reproduction. In a highly variable environment, growth can vary from year to year thereby influencing the long-term life history perspective. The Galapagos sea lion (Zalophus wollebaeki) lives in a highly unpredictable marine environment in which food abundance varies not only seasonally, but also annually due to El Niño. Galapagos sea lions are restricted to a patch of cold upwelling waters surrounding the archipelago and are closely tied to land as nursing females alternate between foraging at sea and nursing ashore. Therefore, their offspring are especially vulnerable to ocean warming causing reduced food abundance. We found a significant correlation between sea surface temperature (SST) and early growth: Both mass at birth and linear growth within the first 2 mo of life correlated negatively with SST. Absolute mass gain was higher for males, but both sexes gained equally 1.9% of birth mass per day. Until the age of 3 yr male and female juveniles showed similar growth to an asymptotic mass of 40 and 35 kg, respectively. As a consequence of the highly variable environment, the plasticity in growth strategy of Galapagos sea lion juveniles appears wider than that of all other sea lions allowing them to cope with poor conditions.

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