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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Diet quality and season affect physiology and energetic priorities of captive Steller sea lions during and after periods of nutritional stress Jeanniard Du Dot, Tiphaine


The ability of animals to contend with unpredictable seasonal shifts in quality and quantity of prey has implications for the conservation of wildlife. Steller sea lions(Eumetopias jubatus) were subjected to different quantities and qualities of food to determine what physiological and endocrine responses would occur and whether they differed between season (summer and winter) or diet (high-lipid Pacific herring Clupeapallasi vs. low-lipid Walleye Pollock Theragra chalcogramma). Eight females were divided among two groups. One (Group H) were fed herring for 28 days (baseline), then received a reduced caloric intake for a subsequent 28 days (restriction) to induce a 15%loss of body mass. The second (Group P) were also fed herring during the baseline followed by a reduced isocaloric diet of pollock during the restriction. Both groups subsequently returned to their baseline intake of herring for a 28-day controlled re-feeding. The two groups of sea lions lost identical mass during restrictions independent of species eaten, but did differ in the type of internal energy reserve (protein vs. lipids) they predominantly used. Group H lost significantly more lipids and less lean mass than Group P in both seasons. In summer, Group H also increased activity levels and decreased thermoregulation capacity to optimize energy allocation. No such changes were observed for Group P whose capacity to adjust to the reduced caloric intake seemed to have been blocked by the pollock diet. During winter, the sea lions spared energy allocated to activity (especially Group H) and preserved thermoregulation capacity. Changes in body mass was negatively related to free cortisol and positively related to IGF-1 in winter, but only IGF-1 was related to changes in mass in summer when lean mass regulation seemed more important. Levels of IGF-1 were associated with changes in protein metabolism in both seasons for both groups, but changes in body condition were never explained by the measured metabolites or hormones. The capacity to compensate for mass loss was seasonally dependent with sea lions displaying compensatory growth (by restoring lipid stores) in winter but not in summer. Summer appears to be a more difficult season for sea lions to recover from mild nutritional stress. These physiological findings can be used to refine bioenergetic models needed for the conservation of Steller sea lion populations.

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