Life cycle of Southern Elephant seals: energetic, physiological and behavioural adaptations to environmental constraints

Climate and environmental changes influence the dynamics and structure of marine ecosystems, which affect the distribution and the abundance of marine species. Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) may be particularly affected by such spatiotemporal variability, since they alternate between foraging periods at sea and fasting time on land. Different foraging strategies at sea may impact the efficiency with which animals forage, which is the key to their reproduction and moult on land.

This project encompasses a long-term observatory project, the SO-MEMO, which aims to extend the environmental and seal behaviour data set. Moreover, our work aims at 1) linking natural conditions and energetic constraints of a marine predator during its life cycle, alternating foraging and fasting periods; and 2) exploring whether individual strategies related to personality traits would impact on foraging success, moult speed, and ultimately on energetic and fitness components.

By exploring both proximate parameters (i.e. physiological, behavioural, energetic strategies) and ultimate (i.e. foraging success, reproductive success, moult speed) of individuals, this work will increase our understanding of how environmental stressors such as ocean warming may influence energy expenditure, energy intake and therefore energy balance of this deep diving predator, and how this could be mediated by personality traits and structure on the long-term adaptations of populations.