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Rates of maximum food intake in young northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) and the seasonal effects of food intake on body growth

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Accurate estimates of food intake and its subsequent effect on growth are required to understand the interaction between an animal’s physiology and its biotic environment. We determined how food intake and growth of six young northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus (L., 1758)) responded seasonally to changes in food availability. Animals were given unrestricted access to prey for 8 h·day–1 on either consecutive days or on alternate days only. We found animals offered ad libitum food on consecutive days substantially increased their food intake over normal “training” levels. However, animals that fasted on alternate days were unable to compensate by further increasing their levels of consumption on subsequent feeding days. Absolute levels of food intake were highly consistent during winter and summer trials (2.7–2.9 kg·day–1), but seasonal differences in body mass meant that fur seals consumed more food relative to their body mass in summer (~27%) than in winter (~20%). Despite significant increases in absolute food intake during both seasons, the fur seals did not appear to efficiently convert this additional energy into mass growth, particularly in the winter. These seasonal differences in conversion efficiencies and estimates of maximum intake rates can be used to generate physiologically realistic predictions about the effect of changes in food availability on an individual fur seal, as well as the consequences for an entire population.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-12-01

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  • Published since 1929, this monthly journal reports on primary research contributed by respected international scientists in the broad field of zoology, including behaviour, biochemistry and physiology, developmental biology, ecology, genetics, morphology and ultrastructure, parasitology and pathology, and systematics and evolution. It also invites experts to submit review articles on topics of current interest.
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