Research Summary: Human Disturbance Influences Reproductive Success and Growth Rate in California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus)


The environment is currently undergoing changes at both global (e.g., climate
change) and local (e.g., tourism, pollution, habitat modification) scales that
have the capacity to affect the viability of animal and plant populations. Many
of these changes, such as human disturbance, have an anthropogenic origin and
therefore may be mitigated by management action. To do so requires an
understanding of the impact of human activities and changing environmental
conditions on population dynamics. We investigated the influence of human
activity on important life history parameters (reproductive rate, and body
condition, and growth rate of neonate pups) for California sea lions
(Zalophus californianus) in the Gulf of California, Mexico.
Increased human presence was associated with lower reproductive rates, which
translated into reduced long-term population growth rates and suggested that
human activities are a disturbance that could lead to population declines. We
also observed higher body growth rates in pups with increased exposure to
humans. Increased growth rates in pups may reflect a density dependent response
to declining reproductive rates (e.g., decreased competition for resources). Our
results highlight the potentially complex changes in life history parameters
that may result from human disturbance, and their implication for population
dynamics. We recommend careful monitoring of human activities in the Gulf of
California and emphasize the importance of management strategies that explicitly
consider the potential impact of human activities such as ecotourism on
vertebrate populations.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 16-March-2011

Author(s): French S., González-Suárez M., Young J., Durham S., Gerber L.


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