Long-term trends in reproductive and demographic parameters of female Northwest Atlantic hooded seals (Cystophora cristata): population responses to ecosystem change?

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Abstract:

More than 2500 ovaries were collected from Northwest Atlantic hooded seals (Cystophora cristata (Erxleben, 1777)) in the period 1956–2006 during moulting (data blocks: 1956–1960, 1970–1972, 1978), postmoulting (data blocks: 1990–1994, 1996–2006), and whelping (data blocks: 1967–1972, 1973–1976, 1979, 1983–1987, 1989–1995). Mean age at primiparity (MAP) was estimated as the mean age of females with a single corpus albicans or a corpus luteum from a postimplantation pregnancy. MAP was stable at 4.2–4.5 years during 1956–1978, increasing to 4.9–5.2 years in 1979 and to 6.1 years in 1989–1995 (later data insufficient). Patterns of corpus accumulation indicated occasional skipped pregnancies. This may have affected the accuracy of MAP estimates but not the main trends. Declining proportions of parae younger than 10 years after 1979 are consistent with effects of delayed maturation, reduced adult hunting mortality, and (or) increased juvenile mortality. From the 1990s, declining adult pregnancy rates are suggested by decreasing trends in proportions of older multiparae (8+) and other ovary-based proxies for pregnancy rates. Hooded seal abundance was largely stable from 1960 to the mid-1990s and changes in population parameters over this period are therefore more likely due to effects of ecosystem change on per-capita resource levels than population-mediated density dependence.

Keywords: Cystophora cristata; Northwest Atlantic; age at maturity; age at primiparity; mean maternal age; nord-ouest de l’Atlantique; âge maternel moyen; âge à la maturité; âge à la primiparité

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1139/z11-140

Affiliations: 1: Institute of Marine Research, P.O. Box 6404, NO-9294 Tromsø, Norway. 2: Science Branch, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Centre, St. John’s, NL A1C 5X1, Canada.

Publication date: March 2, 2012

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