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Longitudinal changes and consistency in male physical and behavioural traits have implications for mating success in the grey seal (Halichoerus grypus)

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We examined age-related changes and consistency in physical and behavioural traits of 20 male grey seals (Halichoerus grypus (Fabricius, 1791)) and implications for a proxy of mating success (number of oestrous females attended) over four successive breeding seasons on Sable Island, Canada. Across the study, young males (10–15 years) gained body mass, while old males (23–31 years) lost body mass. Body length was an important determinant of tenure (time spent at a site among females) and males of all ages exhibited a high level of consistency in duration of tenure (r = 0.40–0.50). In young males, our proxy of success showed a strong relationship with arrival body mass and also exhibited a high level of consistency (r = 0.50). None of the physical traits measured explained variation in success by exhibiting mating tactics that did not involve tenure, which is likely due to the opportunistic nature of those tactics. Whereas young male grey seals exhibited age-dependent improvements in success owing to changes in their physical state, later in life physical traits were less influential and suggest that nonphysical traits may compensate for a deteriorating physical state and its impact on male success.

Keywords: Halichoerus grypus; behavioural consistency; breeding behaviour; cohérence des comportements; comportement reproductif; grey seal; intraindividual; intraindividuel; phoque gris

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS B3H 4R2, Canada. 2: Population Ecology Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Dartmouth, NS B2Y 4A2, Canada. 3: Department of Conservation Biology, National Zoological Park, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC 20008, USA.

Publication date: July 19, 2012

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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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