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Intraspecific variation in feeding strategies of Galapagos sea lions: A case of trophic specialization.

  • Author(s): Páez-Rosas, Diego
  • Villegas-Amtmann, Stella
  • Costa, Daniel
  • et al.

The trophic behavior of marine predators varies according to the level of competition to which they are exposed. In general, populations that inhabit lower productivity systems face a strong intraspecific competition, which contributes to the development of different foraging strategies to maximize nutritional efficiency. Given the high trophic flexibility of Zalophus wollebaeki, this species is considered appropriate for the analysis of such behavior. Furthermore, this trophic flexibility has allowed them to persist in a seemingly marginal ecosystem. In this study, we used a comparative analysis of variables (diet and dive behavior) related to Z. wollebaeki trophic niche plasticity to better understand their foraging ecology, using techniques such scat analysis, satellite telemetry and complementarily an isotopic analysis. Scat analysis revealed intra-population variation in their diet, represented by prey from different environments (epipelagic and benthic). These results are supported by the animals' locations at sea and diving profiles. Global Positioning System (GPS) and time-depth recorder (TDR) records showed the existence of two groups, with differing feeding areas and diving behavior. Also the δ15N values showed differences in the trophic level at which the species fed. These results constitute a relevant finding in the evolutionary behavior of the species, showing that Z. wollebaeki has developed a high degree of foraging flexibility, thus increasing its survival rate in an ecosystem that is highly demanding in terms of resource availability.

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