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Pup mortality in a rapidly declining harbour seal (Phoca vitulina) population

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

The harbour seal population in Orkney, off the north coast of Scotland, has reduced by 65% between 2001 and 2010. The cause(s) of this decline are unknown but must affect the demographic parameters of the population. Here, satellite telemetry data were used to test the hypothesis that increased pup mortality could be a primary driver of the decline in Orkney. Pup mortality and tag failure parameters were estimated from the duration of operation of atellite tags deployed on harbour seal pups from the Orkney population (n = 4) and from another population on the west coast of Scotland (n = 24) where abundance was stable. Survival probabilities from both populations were best represented by a common gamma distribution and were not different from one another, suggesting that increased pup mortality is unlikely to be the primary agent in the Orkney population decline. The estimated probability of surviving to 6 months was 0.390 (95% CI 0.297 – 0.648) and tag failure was represented by a Gaussian distribution, with estimated mean 270 (95% CI = 198 – 288) and s.d. 21 (95% CI = 1 – 66) days. These results suggest that adult survival is the most likely proximate cause of the decline. They also demonstrate a novel technique for attaining age-specific mortality rates from telemetry data.
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Original languageEnglish
Article numbere80727
JournalPLoS One
Volume8
Issue number11
Early online date27 Nov 2013
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 27 Nov 2013

    Research areas

  • Confidence intervals, Death rates, Fecundity, Population dynamics, Probability distribution, Scotland, Seals, Wildlife

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