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The energetic consequences of behavioral variation in a marine carnivore

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Intraspecific variability in foraging behavior has been documented across a range of taxonomic groups, yet the energetic consequences of this variation are not well understood for many species. Understanding the effect of behavioral variation on energy expenditure and acquisition is particularly crucial for mammalian carnivores because they have high energy requirements that place considerable pressure on prey populations. To determine the influence of behavior on energy expenditure and balance, we combined simultaneous measurements of at-sea field metabolic rate (FMR) and foraging behavior in a marine carnivore that exhibits intraspecific behavioral variation, the California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Sea lions exhibited variability in at-sea FMR, with some individuals expending energy at a maximum of twice the rate of others. This variation was in part attributable to differences in diving behavior that may have been reflective of diet; however, this was only true for sea lions using a foraging strategy consisting of epipelagic (<200 m within the water column) and benthic dives. In contrast, sea lions that used a deep-diving foraging strategy all had similar values of at-sea FMR that were unrelated to diving behavior. Energy intake did not differ between foraging strategies and was unrelated to energy expenditure. Our findings suggest that energy expenditure in California sea lions may be influenced by interactions between diet and oxygen conservation strategies. There were no apparent energetic trade-offs between foraging strategies, although there was preliminary evidence that foraging strategies may differ in their variability in energy balance. The energetic consequences of behavioral variation may influence the reproductive success of female sea lions and result in differential impacts of individuals on prey populations. These findings highlight the importance of quantifying the relationships between energy expenditure and foraging behavior in other carnivores for studies addressing fundamental and applied physiological and ecological questions.

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