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Daily energy expenditure of northern fur seals : techniques and measurements Dalton, Alexander Jonathan MacGregor

Abstract

Seasonal changes in the daily energy expenditure (DEE) of captive northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) and key components of their energy budget (cost of resting metabolism, thermoregulation, activity and growth) were examined to elucidate potential reasons for the species’ population decline in the wild. The average DEE of 6 females was 527.8 ± 65.7 kJ kg-¹ d-¹ and fluctuated seasonally (~20% greater in the fall than in the winter). Resting metabolism also changed significantly with season, and was higher in the fall (potentially due to molting or as preparation for migratory activity). While resting metabolism was the largest component of the DEE (~80% on average), it did not follow the same seasonal trend as DEE, and therefore was not the source of the seasonal variation in DEE. Cost of activity was the second major component of DEE and may explain the observed seasonal variations. Energetic costs associated with thermoregulation appeared to be negligible. The northern fur seals were thermally neutral in all seasons for all water temperatures tested (2 °C – 18 °C), except during the summer when immersed in 2 °C water. Comparing this broad thermal neutral zone to the average sea surface temperatures encountered by fur seals in the wild during annual migrations indicates that fur seals can likely exploit a large geographic area without added thermal metabolic costs. While the direct energetic costs of growth appeared to be negligible compared to DEE, the higher growth rates in the summer and elevated resting metabolism in the fall suggests that inadequate nutrition could have greater negative effects during these seasons. Two alternative proxies for measuring energy expenditure were tested and calibrated against respirometry for potential application to wild individuals. The doubly labeled water (DLW) method over-estimated DEE by 13.1 ± 16.5% compared to respirometry. In comparison, accelerometry over-estimated DEE, using fine time scale intervals of 60 and 15 min, by an average of 5.4 ± 29.3% and 13.8 ± 39.5%, respectively. Importantly, seasonal effects (and time of day for accelerometry) must be accounted for when estimating energy expenditure from measures of DLW and acceleration in free-swimming northern fur seals.

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