Linking northern fur seal behavior with prey distributions: the impact of temporal mismatch between predator studies and prey surveys
An essential part of foraging ecology research is identifying how the distribution and abundance of prey influence predator behavior. However, in marine systems, temporal or spatial mismatches often exist between prey surveys and predator tracking periods, especially for species with large foraging ranges. Using northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) as a model, we investigated how conclusions about predator-prey relationships change with increasing temporal disparity between predator
... en predator tracking periods and prey surveys. To measure foraging behavior, northern fur seals (n = 20) from St. Paul Island (Alaska, USA) were equipped with satellite tracking transmitters and time-depth recorders from July to October 2006. Fur seal dive and movement metrics were examined in relation to the relative abundance of the fur seals" primary prey, walleye pollock (Gadus chalcogrammus), reported from the annual eastern Bering Sea groundfish survey. Relationships between foraging behavior metrics and prey abundance were examined within the Bering shelf survey grid cells at three time scales: within 2 weeks of the prey survey, within 1 month, and over the northern fur seal reproductive season (>4 months). Results We found significant relationships between northern fur seal behavior and prey abundance, even with the limited sample size at the shortest temporal resolution (2 weeks). Changes in dive behavior that were associated with areas of abundant pollock (for example, increased vertical distance traveled and longer periods of diving) were consistent with previously reported metrics of pinniped foraging success. When behavioral metrics, such as vertical distance traveled and time spent diving, remained significantly related to prey abundance at multiple temporal scales, the relationship strength was reduced as temporal mismatch increased.