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Oecologia. 2017 Feb;183(2):367-378. doi: 10.1007/s00442-016-3764-5. Epub 2016 Nov 19.

Factors influencing and consequences of breeding dispersal and habitat choice in female grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) on Sable Island, Nova Scotia.

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Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.
Population Ecology Division, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, NS, Canada.
Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, Canada.


Selection of breeding location can influence reproductive success and fitness. Breeding dispersal links habitat use and reproduction. This study investigated factors affecting breeding dispersal and its reproductive consequences in grey seals (Halichoerus grypus) on Sable Island, Nova Scotia. Breeding dispersal distance was determined in 692 individually marked, known-age female grey seals observed from 2004 to 2014. We used generalized linear mixed-effects models to test hypotheses concerning environmental and demographic factors influencing breeding dispersal distance and the consequences of dispersal distance on offspring weaning mass. Grey seal females rarely exhibited fidelity to previous breeding sites. Median dispersal distance between years was 5.1 km. Only 2.9% of females returned to a previous breeding site. Breeding dispersal distance was affected by parity and density, but effects were small and are presumably of no biological significance. Variation in dispersal distance among adult females was large. Dispersal distance had no significant influence on offspring weaning mass; however, as previously found, pup sex and maternal age did. Although breeding location was not important, heavier pups were born in habitats with no tidal or storm-surge influence indicating that breeding habitat type did influence offspring size at weaning. The lack of site fidelity in grey seals on Sable Island is associated with an unpredictable and changing landscape (sand dunes) that could make it difficult for females to locate previous breeding locations. Although breeding location within habitat type had small consequences on offspring weaning mass, we detected no evidence that breeding site selection within the habitat had consequences to females.


Breeding dispersal; Habitat; Marine mammal; Offspring weaning mass; Pinniped; Site fidelity

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