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Live fast and die young; the cost of early breeding in southern elephant seals

Live fast and die young; the cost of early breeding in southern elephant seals
Marine Desprez

Authors

Desprez M
Department of Environment and Geography, Macquarie University

Hindell M. A.
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, University of Tasmania, Hobart, Tasmania

Gimenez, O
Institution not provided

McMahon C
Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

Abstract

When to begin breeding is an important life-history decision that implies trade-offs, also known as the cost of reproduction, between present reproduction and future survival and reproduction. The cost of reproduction is important in shaping the life-history strategies of many species and can potentially strongly influence the fitness and the population viability. The youngest first-time breeders are expected to have lower subsequent survival and/or fecundity than individuals that delay their first reproduction to an older age. Consequently younger first-time breeders are likely to have lower lifetime reproductive success and/or to produce low-quality offspring. To quantify the effects of early breeding, we estimated the age-specific survival and the subsequent breeding probabilities of first-time breeders in a population of permanently marked southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) at Macquarie Island. We also investigated the relation between the maternal age at first reproduction and both the lifetime reproductive success and the offspring survival using multi-event capture-recapture models that account for both imperfect detection and uncertainty in the breeding status. Our results clearly supported the presence of a cost of early reproduction as the youngest first time breeders have a lower survival and breed less frequently than the females that delayed their first reproduction attempt.

Keywords: cost of reproduction, age at first reproduction, Mirounga leonina, multi-event capture-recapture model.

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This page was last modified on 5 September 2013.