Male grey seals…only one thing on their mind?

MEPS1

We are happy to announce our recent publication of “Breeding male grey seals exhibit similar activity budgets across varying exposures to human activity” in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

In this paper, we show that the activity budgets of males breeding at colonies on the mainland of England, who are exposed to tourism and other human activities, had very similar behaviours to males breeding on offshore, isolated colonies. Since staying longer on the colony relates to greater mating success, for males who fast during the breeding season, the selection for the conservation of energy might reduce how responsive males are to disturbances while breeding. Further work is still needed to determine if this lack of a behavioural response is driven by habituation, or if there are underlying physiological indicators of disturbance that are not noticed in behaviours.

Here is the abstract and a link to the paper!

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Human−wildlife interactions can be incidental or direct through activities such as wildlife tourism. In the presence of anthropogenic activities,some animals exhibit behavioural alterations such as increased vigilance or spatial displacement. Thus, chronic exposure could be adverse to individual fitness through loss of energy or time. Pinnipeds are exposed to human activities in the aquatic environment and on land, but the degree of exposure varies across a species’ geographic distribution. For example, breeding colonies of grey seals Halichoerus grypus along the mainland coast of England are exposed to anthropogenic disturbance in the forms of tourism and military activities; however, many offshore colonies are relatively undisturbed. Due to the recent expansion of mainland colonies, the impacts of human presence during the breeding season are of urgent interest for managers. Therefore, the aim of this study was to test for any behavioural adjustments associated with anthropogenic presence by comparing the activity budgets of individual male grey seals at a mainland colony with activity budgets from 2 isolated colonies. We found no evidence of differences in the male activity budgets for time spent in non-active behaviours across colonies, and of the 3 colonies, males on the mainland spent the least amount of time alert. This indicates that as capital breeders, selection for conservation of energy is potentially overriding short-term costs of local stressors or that males at the mainland colony have habituated to human presence. Our results demonstrate the importance of understanding species- and life-history-stage-specific selection pressures when considering management actions.

The article can be found at: http://www.int-res.com/articles/meps2015/527/m527p247.pdf

If you have any questions feel free to get in touch! (a.m.bishop@durham.ac.uk or s.d.twiss@durham.ac.uk )

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