Male-biased sex ratios in New Zealand fur seal pups relative to environmental variation

Corey J A Bradshaw*, Robert G. Harcourt, Lloyd S. Davis

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


A number of models have been proposed to provide adaptive explanations of sex-ratio variation in mammals. Two models have been applied commonly to primates and ungulates with varying success - the Trivers-Willard (TW) hypothesis, and the local resource competition (LRC) hypothesis. For polygynous, sexually dimorphic mammals, where males are larger and disperse more readily, these models predict opposite outcomes of sex-ratio adjustment within the same environmental context (high-resource years: TW - more sons; LRC -more daughters). However, many of the predictions of these two models can vary depending on factors influencing resource availability, such as environmental stochasticity, resource predictability, and population density. The New Zealand fur seal (Arctocephalus forsteri) is a polygynous mammal showing marked sexual dimorphism (larger males), with higher variation in male reproductive success expected. We provide clear evidence of male-biased sex ratios from a large sample of A. forsteri pups captured around South Island, New Zealand during 1996/1998, even after accounting for a sex bias in capture probability. The extent of the bias depended upon year and, in 1998, strong climatic perturbations (El Niño/Southern Oscillation, ENSO) probably reduced food availability. Significant male-biased sex ratios were found in all years; however, there was a significant decline in the male bias in 1998. There was no relationship between sex ratio and population density. We suggest that the sexratio bias resulted from the production of relatively more male pups. Under the density-independent scenario, the strong male bias in A. forsteri sex ratios is support for the TW model within an environment of high resource predictability. We suggest that some plasticity in the determination of pup sex among years is a mechanism by which A. forsteri females in New Zealand, and perhaps other otariid seals, can maximise fitness benefits when living in regions of high, yet apparently predictable, environmental variability. We also suggest that much of the inconsistency in the reported sex ratios for otariid seals results from the complex interaction of population density and environmental stochasticity influencing relative food availability over time.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-307
Number of pages11
JournalBehavioral Ecology and Sociobiology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2003


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