Habitat modelling of crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophaga) in the Weddell Sea using the multivariate approach Maxent

dominik.nachtsheim [ at ] awi.de


The crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga) is the most abundant Antarctic seal and inhabits the circumpolar pack ice zone of the Southern Ocean. Until now, information on important environmental factors affecting its distribution as well as on foraging behaviour is limited. In austral summer 1998, 12 crabeater seals of both sexes and different age classes were equipped with satellite-linked dive recorders at Drescher Inlet (72.85°S, 19.26°E), eastern Weddell Sea. To identify suitable habitat conditions within the Weddell Sea, a maximum entropy (Maxent) modelling approach was implemented. The model revealed that the eastern and southern Weddell Sea is especially suitable for crabeater seals. Distance to the continental shelf break and sea ice concentration were the two most important parameters in modelling species distribution throughout the study period. Model predictions demonstrated that crabeater seals showed a dynamic response to their seasonally changing environment emphasized by the favoured sea ice conditions. Crabeater seals utilized ice-free waters substantially, which is potentially explained by the comparatively low sea ice cover of the Weddell Sea during summer 1998. Diving behaviour was characterized by short (>90 % = 0–4 min) and shallow (>90 % = 0–51 m) dives. This pattern reflects the typical summer and autumn foraging behaviour of crabeater seals. Both the distribution and foraging behaviour corresponded well with the life history of the Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba), the preferred prey of crabeater seals. In general, predicted suitable habitat conditions were congruent with probable habitats of krill, which emphasizes the strong dependence on their primary prey.

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DOI 10.1007/s00300-016-2020-0

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Nachtsheim, D. , Jerosch, K. , Hagen, W. , Plötz, J. and Bornemann, H. (2017): Habitat modelling of crabeater seals (Lobodon carcinophaga) in the Weddell Sea using the multivariate approach Maxent , Polar Biology, 40 (5), pp. 961-976 . doi: 10.1007/s00300-016-2020-0

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