Creatures of habit: Foraging habitat fidelity of adult female Australian sea lions

A. D. Lowther*, R. G. Harcourt, D. J. Hamer, S. D. Goldsworthy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


We examined the movement characteristics and seasonality of feeding behaviour for an endemic Australian otariid, the Australian sea lion Neophoca cinerea. By combining tracking data and stable isotope analysis of serially subsampled vibrissae from 20 adult females at 7 colonies, we were able to characterise individual foraging specialisation across 80% of the species range. Adult females expressed long-term temporal consistency in both foraging site (offshore vs. inshore) and prey selection. When seasonality in foraging behaviour was detected (n = 7), there was no consistency in variation of isotope ratios between individuals or colonies. Offshore-foraging sea lions fed at higher trophic levels than inshore foragers. Potentially, inshore foragers could be subdivided into those which targeted heterogeneously distributed seagrass meadows or calcarenite reef sys tems for different payoffs. This data highlights the importance of understanding individual specialization and the dangers of generalising behaviour at the colony level. Individual specialisation in foraging behaviour may be a mechanism that reduces intra-specific competition, but its effectiveness will be a function of the temporal stability of individual differences. The present study is the first to identify multi-season consistency of individual foraging behaviour for any otariid. Given the long-term stability of adult female foraging behaviour, categorising individuals using a proxy measure such as whisker isotopic signature appears robust, economical, and appropriate. Such data is critical to modeling population response to anthropogenically driven fine-scale habitat modification.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-263
Number of pages15
JournalMarine Ecology Progress Series
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2011

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