Juvenile Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) utilization distributions in the Gulf of Alaska

Published on 2018-05-15T05:00:00Z (GMT) by
Abstract Background A utilization distribution quantifies the temporal and spatial probability of space use for individuals or populations. These patterns in movement arise from individuals’ internal state and from their response to the external environment, and thus can provide insights for assessing factors associated with the management of threatened populations. The Western Distinct Population Segment of the Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) has declined to approximately 20% of levels encountered 40 years ago. At the height of the decline, juvenile survival appeared to be depressed and currently there is evidence that juvenile mortality due to predation may be constraining recovery in some regions. Therefore, our objectives were to identify what spaces are biologically important to juvenile Steller sea lions in the Kenai Fjords and Prince William Sound regions of the Gulf of Alaska. Methods We examined geospatial location data from juvenile sea lions tagged between 2000 and 2014 (n = 84) and derived individual and pooled-population utilization distributions (UDs) from their movements. Core areas were defined from the UDs using an individual-based approach; this quantitatively confirmed that all individuals in our sample exhibited concentrated use within their home range (95% UD). Finally, we explored if variation in UD characteristics were associated with sex, season, age, or region. Results We found evidence that individual juvenile home ranges were region and sex-specific, with males having larger home ranges on average. Core space characteristics were also sex-specific, and exhibited seasonal patterns of reduced size, increased proximity to haulouts, and increased intensity of use in the summer, but only in the Kenai Fjords-Gulf of Alaska region. Conclusions This study highlights the areas of biological importance during this vulnerable life history stage, and the demographic, seasonal, and spatial factors associated with variation in movement patterns for a marine mesopredator. This can be useful information for promoting species recovery, and for future efforts to understand ecological patterns such as predator-prey interactions.

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Bishop, Amanda; Brown, Casey; Rehberg, Michael; Torres, Leigh; Horning, Markus (2018): Juvenile Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) utilization distributions in the Gulf of Alaska. figshare. Collection.