Constrained by consistency? Repeatability of foraging behavior at multiple timescales for a generalist marine predator

Pay-walled/Intertek link Peer Reviewed Publication 2018

Marine Biology

Marine predators frequently exhibit consistency in foraging behaviors despite the dynamic nature of marine ecosystems, which has the potential for ecological and evolutionary implications depending on the timescale at which it persists. We examined behavioral consistency in movements and diving behavior of adult female California sea lions (Zalophus californianus), which are abundant, generalist central-place foragers inhabiting an ecosystem characterized by small- and broadscale oceanographic variability. We used biologging devices to measure repeatability of behavior within a season and stable isotope analysis of whiskers to quantify behavior across a 2-year period associated with anomalous environmental conditions that afected prey availability. Sea lions were signifcantly repeatable in all variables across multiple timescales (Radj=0.26–0.82), although repeatability estimates were generally higher for variables related to characteristics of individual dives (e.g., dive depth) than those that described dive bouts (e.g., bout duration) or spatial use (e.g., volume of 3D utilization distribution). These diferences may result from the fact that diving behaviors vary with prey type, whereas spatial use and bout variables may refect the foraging success within prey patches or movement among patches. There was variation in how predictable individual sea lions were in their diving behaviors, which was largely unrelated or negatively related to foraging site fidelity. The strength of behavioral consistency decreased with time yet persisted across the 2-year period, suggesting that while sea lions alter their behavior in response to environmental change, the behavioral fexibility of individuals may ultimately be constrained by consistency.

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