Do southern elephant seals show density dependence in fecundity?
Bradshaw, CJA and McMahon, CR and Hindell, MA and Pistorious, PA and Bester, MN, Do southern elephant seals show density dependence in fecundity?, Polar Biology, 25, (9) pp. 650-655. ISSN 0722-4060 (2002) [Refereed Article]
Here we provide an alternative interpretation to that of Pistorius et al. (2001), concerning density-dependent increases in fecundity resulting in population regulation of the southern elephant seal population at Marion Island. We do not contradict the findings of Pistorius et al. (2001), because it does appear: (1) that a change in fecundity has been observed, and (2) that some factor related to food supply is the most likely cause for an observed population decline and increase in reproductive performance. The main observation leading to the interpretation of density-dependent feedback in the population of southern elephant seals at Marion Island (one of the Prince Edward Islands) is that there has been a reduction in the population's rate of decline in recent years (reported by Pistorius et al. (1999b)), and that this could have resulted from a per capita increase in food availability. However, because rates of population change are rarely linearly constant, changes in population size should be expressed on a logarithmic, rather than a linear scale, as used by Pistorius et al. (1999b). Re-plotting the linear values of Pistorius et al. (1999b) on the natural logarithmic scale gave no clear change in the rate of population decline; therefore, we conclude that the rate of population change (decline) has remained constant from 1986 to 1997 (r=-0.0439). The Marion Island population is part of the larger Kerguelen population, and there might be considerable overlap in the foraging areas, and possibly prey, exploited by elephant seals from all sub-populations within this larger population. Changes in the number of intra-specific resource competitors at Marion Island are therefore unlikely to alter per capita food availability since the Marion population constitutes approximately 1% of the total Kerguelen population. We propose an alternative hypothesis that the present data support a mechanism driving the proposed increase in per capita food supply through changes in either: (1) inter-specific food competition, (2) rates of predation, (3) changes in weather pattern or (4) disease.