2013-2014 Science Planning Summaries
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The cost of a new fur coat: Interactions between molt and reproduction in Weddell seals
 

Program Manager:
Dr. Charles Amsler

Event Number: B-292-M
NSF/PLR Award 1246463

ASC POC/Implementer:
Sune Tamm / Cara Sucher

Dr. Jennifer Burns (Principal Investigator)
jmburns@uaa.alaska.edu

University of Alaska Anchorage
Anchorage, Alaska

Supporting Stations:  McMurdo Station
Research Locations:  Big Razorback Island, Hutton Cliffs, McMurdo Sound, Ross Ice Shelf, Scott Base

Project Description:
Researchers will determine mechanisms linking Weddel seal reproduction and molt timing and how late-summer condition impacts next season’s reproductive success. They will assess physiological condition (lipid stores, hormone profiles) at the reproductive period’s end, monitor behavioral patterns (diving activity, diet) between reproduction and molt and assess physiological condition and pregnancy status during molting. By targeting known-age females with various prior reproductive timing, these measurements can be used to assess whether molt timing is more responsive to hormonal or energy indices. By targeting females early and late in the molt cycle, researchers will characterize the molting process histologically and physiologically, and gather new and important data on factors influencing the onset of active gestation and/or miscarriage rates. The data will provide baseline values for models predicting the impacts of changing climate and food availability during the austral summer on molt timing and future reproductive success. Through collaboration with B-009-M (Rotella), molt status will be linked to reproductive performance. The data will be used to generate state-dependent hierarchical data, stage-projection matrix, and/or energetic models.

Field Season Overview:
There are two parts to this project's field efforts: assessment of animal condition at the end of lactation, and again during the molt. Therefore they plan to deploy twice during summer 2013-2014.

During the first deployment, field team members will be based out of McMurdo Station and will take daily trips onto the sea ice by snow-machine, with gear towed in sleds, to locate specific adult female Weddell seals, measure their health and condition, and equip them with tags that will monitor diving patterns and aid in relocation. Researchers hope to handle 15-24 adult females. The work will be focused around the breeding colonies within Erebus Bay. During the second deployment, they will return to McMurdo in order to relocate animals handled earlier, and to assess their reproductive condition and health status.

Deploying Team Members:

  • Gregg Adams
  • Roxanne Beltran
  • Rachel Berngartt
  • Jennifer Burns (PI)
  • Amy Kirkham
  • Linnea Pearson
  • Julie Richmond
  • Patrick Robinson
  • Michelle Shero

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Curator: Esther L. Hill PhD, Antarctic Support Contract   |   NSF Official: Alexandra Isern, Division of Polar Programs