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Estimating food consumption of marine predators: Antarctic fur seals and macaroni penguins

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1.Estimating food consumption is central to defining the ecological role of marine predators. This study developed an algorithm for synthesizing information about physiology, metabolism, growth, diet, life history and the activity budgets of marine predators to estimate population energy requirements and food consumption.

2.Two species of marine predators (Antarctic fur seal Arctocephalus gazella and macaroni penguin Eudyptes chrsolophus) that feed on krill in the Southern Ocean were used as examples to test the algorithm. A sensitivity analysis showed that estimates of prey consumed were most sensitive to uncertainty in some demographic variables, particularly the annual survival rate and total offspring production. Uncertainty in the measurement of metabolic rate led to a positive bias in the mean amount of food consumed. Uncertainty in most other variables had little influence on the estimated food consumed.

3.Assuming a diet mainly of krill Euphausia superba, annual food consumption by Antarctic fur seals and macaroni penguins at the island of South Georgia was 3·84 [coefficient of variation (CV) = 0·11] and 8·08 (CV = 0·23) million tonnes, respectively. This was equivalent to a total annual carbon consumption of 0·35 (CV = 0·11) and 0·72 (CV = 0·23) G tonnes year-1. Carbon expired as CO2 was 0·26 (CV = 0·06) and 0·65 (CV = 0·19) G tonnes year-1 for fur seals and macaroni penguins, respectively. The per capita food consumption varied depending upon sex and age but, overall, this was 1·7 (CV = 0·22) tonnes year-1 for Antarctic fur seals and 0·45 (CV = 0·22) tonnes year-1 for macaroni penguins.

4.The algorithm showed that the seasonal demand for food peaked in both species in the second half of the breeding season and, for macaroni penguins, there was a second peak immediately after moult. Minimum food demand occurred in both species during the first half of the breeding season.

5.As both Antarctic fur seals and macaroni penguins compete for krill with a commercial fishery, these results provide an insight into the seasons and stages of the life cycle in which competition is likely to be greatest.
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Keywords: bioenergetics; carbon budgets; marine mammal; predation; seabird

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: February 1, 2002

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