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Maternal Traits and Reproductive Effort in Northern Elephant Seals

The aim of this study was to determine the effects of maternal traits on reproductive expenditure and energy delivery to the offspring in a capital breeder, the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris). Changes in maternal and offspring energy reserves and milk-energy delivery were examined in relation to maternal parturition mass, body composition, and age in females and pups breeding at Ano Nuevo State Reserve, California. Maternal body mass and composition had significant effects on maternal energy expenditure over lactation. Path analysis suggested no significant effects of maternal age on reproductive effort of parous females. The efficiency of milk production increased significantly with maternal age. Offspring metabolism was a relatively small component of maternal energy expenditure, with pups storing 84% of the energy obtained from milk. These effects are an important consequence of the phocid strategy for enabling terrestrial parturition despite marine feeding. This strategy has resulted in an abbreviated and highly efficient lactation system that is strongly impacted by body reserves, linking foraging success at sea with reproductive success on land. Maternal size, body composition, and age were important features of reproduction in northern elephant seals. These characteristics are rarely considered concurrently in life history studies.

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