North Pacific climate mediates offspring sex ratio in northern elephant seals

Lee, D. E., and W. J. Sydeman

Determinants of sex ratios in animal populations have been of general interest to ecologists for decades. We tested the hypothesis that offspring sex ratio in a population of northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) was related to large-scale environmental indices reflecting ocean climate and productivity that affected the condition of reproductive females over 31 years (1976–2006). More males were produced during years of weaker pressure differences and warmer sea surface temperature anomalies in the northeastern Pacific, conditions that reduce or disperse prey resources for gestating females in the North Pacific Ocean. For this species, sexually distinct forage resources exist, so competition for food resources occurs predominately within sex. These results are consistent with the resource competition model for facultative adjustments of offspring sex ratio. Anthropogenic global warming is predicted to warm the North Pacific. This could result in altered basin-scale ocean productivity, increased nutritional stress, and an overabundance of males that may adversely affect this and other similarly regulated mammalian populations.

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Lee, D. E., and W. J. Sydeman. 2009. North Pacific climate mediates offspring sex ratio in northern elephant seals. Journal of Mammalogy 90:1-8.