Impact of Body Reserves on Energy Expenditure, Water Flux, and Mating Success in Breeding Male Northern Elephant Seals

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Published in: Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, Vol. 85, No. 1, 2012.


In capital breeders, individual differences in body size and condition can impact mating effort and success. In addition to the collateral advantages of large body size in competition, large nutrient reserves may offer advantages in endurance rivalry and enable the high rates of energy expenditure associated with mating success. We examined the impacts of body reserves and dominance rank on energy expenditure, water flux, mating success, and breeding tenure in the adult male northern elephant seal, a polygynous, capital breeder. Adult males expended energy at a rate of MJ d−1, which is equivalent to 3.1 times the standard metabolic rate predicted by Kleiber’s equation. Despite high rates of energy expenditure and a long fasting duration, males spared lean tissue effectively, deriving a mean of 7% of their metabolism from protein catabolism. Body composition had a strong impact on the ability to spare lean tissue during breeding. When controlling for body size, energy expenditure, depletion of blubber reserves, and water efflux were significantly greater in alpha males than in subordinate males. Large body size was associated with increased reproductive effort, tenure on shore, dominance rank, and reproductive success. Terrestrial locomotion and topography appeared to strongly influence energy expenditure. Comparisons with conspecific females suggest greater total seasonal reproductive effort in male northern elephant seals when controlling for the effects of body mass. In polygynous capital breeding systems, male effort may be strongly influenced by physiological state and exceed that of females.