Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) were listed as endangered following a collapse of the western population beginning in the late 1970s. Low juvenile survival and reduced reproductive rates (natality) have been implicated as important factors in the decline. I conducted separate mark-recapture analyses to estimate juvenile survival and natality in an area of the western population where Steller sea lions have begun to show signs of recovery since the early 2000s. I then used these vital-rate estimates in a population matrix to estimate the strength of the recovery and assess which rates pose the greatest threats to recovery. First year survival was estimated at 80% for both males and females, but second-year survival dropped to a low of 40.6% for males and 64.2 % for females that were weaned at age 1. In contrast, survival was greatly improved (88.2%) for males and females that continued to suckle between ages 1 and 2. Cumulative survival to age 4 was double (35.7%) that estimated during the population decline. Natality was also higher in recent years (70%) than during the height of the decline in the 1980s (55%). The mean rate of population growth, based on matrix modeling of vital rates estimated in this study, was 4.1% per year between 2003 and 2013. By projecting these trends into the future, I estimated that the population in the study area may be fully recovered within 14 years, if density independent growth is to be expected in the near future. If density dependent factors come into play, the population will need another 37 years to fully recover. As would be expected from a long-lived, K-selected species, population growth rate was most sensitive to variation in adult survival, less sensitive to juvenile survival, and least sensitivity to natality. The findings of this study have important implications for Steller sea lion population management and suggest research priorities should be shifted from an emphasis on natality to an emphasis on survival rates and causes of mortality.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 2015
Table of Contents
Preface -- 1. General introduction -- 2. The effects of birth weight and maternal care on survival of juvenile steller sea lions (eumetopias jubatus) -- 3. A longitudinal study of steller sea lion natality rates in the Gulf of Alaska with comparisons to census data -- 4. Projecting the population trend of steller sea lions in the eastern Gulf of Alaska with established vital rates and life -- 5. General conclusion.
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