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Optimizing lifetime reproductive output: intermittent breeding as a tactic for females in a long-lived, multiparous mammal


Deprez, M and Giminez, O and McMahon, CR and Hindell, MA and Harcourt, RG, Optimizing lifetime reproductive output: intermittent breeding as a tactic for females in a long-lived, multiparous mammal, Journal of Animal Ecology, 87, (1) pp. 199-211. ISSN 1365-2656 (2018) [Refereed Article]

Copyright Statement

© 2017 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2017 British Ecological Society

DOI: doi:10.1111/1365-2656.12775


  1. In iteroparous species, intermittent breeding is an important life‐history tactic that can greatly affect animal population growth and viability. Despite its importance, few studies have quantified the consequences of breeding pauses on lifetime reproductive output, principally because calculating lifetime reproductive output requires knowledge of each individual's entire reproductive history. This information is extremely difficult to obtain in wild populations.
  2. We applied novel statistical approaches that account for uncertainty in state assessment and individual heterogeneity to an 18‐year capture–recapture dataset of 6,631 female southern elephant seals from Macquarie Island. We estimated survival and breeding probabilities, and investigated the consequences of intermittent breeding on lifetime reproductive output.
  3. We found consistent differences in females’ demographic performance between two heterogeneity classes. In particular, breeding imbued a high cost on survival in the females from the heterogeneity class 2, assumed to be females of lower quality. Individual quality also appeared to play a major role in a female's decision to skip reproduction with females of poorer quality more likely to skip breeding events than females of higher quality.
  4. Skipping some breeding events allowed females from both heterogeneity classes to increase lifetime reproductive output over females that bred annually. However, females of lower quality produced less offspring over their lifetime.
  5. Intermittent breeding seems to be used by female southern elephant seals as a tactic to offset reproductive costs on survival and enhance lifetime reproductive output but remains unavoidable and driven by individual‐specific constraints in some other females.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Southern Ocean, ecosystems, demography, finite‐mixture, capture–recapture models, individual heterogeneity, life‐history trade‐offs, Mirounga leonina, reproductive costs, state uncertainty
Research Division:Biological Sciences
Research Group:Ecology
Research Field:Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology)
Objective Division:Environmental Management
Objective Group:Marine systems and management
Objective Field:Marine biodiversity
UTAS Author:Hindell, MA (Professor Mark Hindell)
ID Code:130083
Year Published:2018
Web of Science® Times Cited:23
Deposited By:Ecology and Biodiversity
Deposited On:2019-01-09
Last Modified:2019-03-25

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