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Environmental and physiological determinants of huddling behavior of molting female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina)

Abstract : Thermoregulation is particularly costly for homeotherms living in extreme environmental conditions. The southern elephant seal Mirounga leonina undertakes an annual catastrophic molt while fasting on land in a wet, windy and cold environment. However, southern elephant seals show characteristic aggregation patterns that are predicted to reduce high metabolic costs during the molt. Between 2012 and 2016, 59 female elephant seals were tracked on land during their molt to study their aggregation behavior in relation to molt stage, habitat type and local weather conditions. Nine seals were equipped with stomach temperature loggers and infrared thermography was used to observe variation in body and surface temperature, respectively, in relation to molt stage and aggregation behavior. We found that thermal constraints varied during the molt, with a peak in surface temperature during mid-stage of the molt. Wallows (mud pools) appear as favorable habitat to aggregate while molting. Indeed, wallows offered a warmer microclimate with higher ground temperature and lower wind speed. Moreover, there was a greater proportion of aggregated seals and larger group size in wallows. These aggregation patterns in wallows were influenced by local weather such that a greater proportion of seals positioned in the center of the aggregation, and larger group size occurred during days of unfavorable meteorological conditions. We also observed that elephant seals aggregated more during the mid-stage of molt. This aggregation behavior may reduce the cost of thermogenesis as surface body temperature and stomach temperature were lower in aggregated compared to isolated seals by 1.0°C and 1.5°C, respectively. Huddling behavior was therefore thermally advantageous for female southern elephant seals during the molt. Further work is needed to better understand physiological mechanisms linked to different huddling strategies. File Name [File Type] cover-letter_Chaise_P&B.pdf [Cover Letter] Chaise-et-al_Manuscript1.docx [Manuscript File] To view all the submission files, including those not included in the PDF, click on the manuscript title on your EVISE Homepage, then click 'Download zip file'.
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Submitted on : Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 1:34:20 PM
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Laureline Chaise, Dominic Mccafferty, Adélie Krellenstein, Susan Gallon, William Paterson, et al.. Environmental and physiological determinants of huddling behavior of molting female southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina). Physiology and Behavior, Elsevier, 2019, 199, pp.182-190. ⟨10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.10.016⟩. ⟨hal-02108299⟩

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