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Food-provisioning negatively affects calf survival and female reproductive success in bottlenose dolphins

Senigaglia, V., Christiansen, F., Sprogis, K.R., Symons, J. and Bejder, L. (2019) Food-provisioning negatively affects calf survival and female reproductive success in bottlenose dolphins. Scientific Reports, 9 (1).

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Food-provisioning of wildlife can facilitate reliable up-close encounters desirable by tourists and, consequently, tour operators. Food-provisioning can alter the natural behavior of an animal, encouraging adverse behavior (e.g. begging for food handouts), and affect the reproductive success and the viability of a population. Studies linking food-provisioning to reproductive success are limited due to the lack of long-term datasets available, especially for long-lived species such as marine mammals. In Bunbury, Western Australia, a state-licensed food-provisioning program offers fish handouts to a limited number of free-ranging bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus). Coupled with long-term historical data, this small (<200 individuals), resident dolphin population has been extensively studied for over ten years, offering an opportunity to examine the effect of food-provisioning on the reproductive success of females (ntotal = 63; nprovisioned females = 8). Female reproductive success was estimated as the number of weaned calves produced per reproductive years and calf survival at year one and three years old was investigated. The mean reproductive success of provisioned and non-provisioned females was compared using Bayes factor. We also used generalized linear models (GLMs) to examine female reproductive success in relation to the occurrence of food-provisioning, begging behavior and location (within the study area). Furthermore, we examined the influence of these variables and birth order and climatic fluctuations (e.g. El Niño Southern Oscillation) on calf survival. Bayes factor analyses (Bayes factor = 6.12) and results from the best fitting GLMs showed that female reproductive success and calf survival were negatively influenced by food-provisioning. The negative effects of food-provisioning, although only affecting a small proportion of the adult females’ population (13.2%), are of concern, especially given previous work showing that this population is declining.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Harry Butler Institute
Publisher: Nature Research
United Nations SDGs: Goal 14: Life Below Water
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