Increasing trends in fecundity and calf survival of bottlenose dolphins in a marine protected area

Barbara J. Cheney* (Corresponding Author), Paul M. Thompson, Line S. Cordes

*Corresponding author for this work

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Estimates of temporal variation in demographic rates are critical for identifying drivers of population change and supporting conservation. However, for inconspicuous wide-ranging species, births may be missed and fecundity rates underestimated. We address this issue using photo-identification data and a novel robust design multistate model to investigate changes in bottlenose dolphin fecundity and calf survival. The model allows for uncertainty in breeding status, and seasonal effects. The best model estimated an increase in the proportion of females with newborn calves from 0.16 (95% CI = 0.11–0.24) in 2001 to 0.28 (95% CI = 0.22–0.36) in 2016. First year calf survival also increased over this period from 0.78 (95% CI = 0.53–0.92) to 0.93 (95% CI = 0.82–0.98). Second year calf survival remained lower, but also showed an increase from 0.32 (95% CI = 0.19–0.48) to 0.55 (95% CI = 0.44–0.65). Females with newborn calves had a slightly higher mortality than those with older calves, but further work is required to evaluate potential costs of reproduction. This study presents a rare example of empirical evidence of a positive trend in reproduction and survival for a cetacean population using a Marine Protected Area.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1767
Number of pages9
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 11 Feb 2019

Bibliographical note

We are indebted to Bill Kendall who provided critical input to the development of these analyses while LSC was visiting Colorado State University. Scottish Natural Heritage, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd., Department of Energy and Climate Change, Chevron, Beatrice Offshore Windfarm Ltd., Moray Offshore Renewables Ltd., Marine Scotland, The Crown Estate and Highlands and Islands Enterprise all provided funding for photo-identification surveys. Many thanks to all the colleagues who have helped collect data for this long-term study. Survey work was conducted under Scottish Natural Heritage Animal Scientific Licences.


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