Project Information
The Cost of A New Fur Coat: Interactions between Molt and Reproduction in Weddell Seals
Start Date:
End Date:
Marine mammals that inhabit high latitude environments have evolved unique mechanisms to execute a suite of energetically-costly life history events (CLHEs) within a relatively short timeframe when conditions are most favorable. Understanding the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that regulate CLHEs is particularly important in species such as Weddell seals, as both reproduction and molt are associated with large reductions in foraging effort, and the timing and outcome of each appears linked with the other. The long-term mark recapture program on Erebus Bay's Weddell seals provides a unique opportunity to examine CLHEs in a known-history population. The proposed work will monitor physiological condition, pregnancy status, and behavior at various times throughout the year to determine if molt timing is influenced by prior reproductive outcome, and if it, in turn, influences future reproductive success. These data will then be used to address the demographic consequences of trade-offs between CLHEs in Weddell seals. The impact of environmental conditions and CLHE timing on population health will also be modeled so that results can be extended to other climates and species.

An improved understanding of the interactions between CLHEs and the environment is important in predicting the response of organisms from higher trophic levels to climate change. Results will be widely disseminated through publications as well as through presentations at national and international meetings. In addition, raw data will be made available through open-access databases. This project will support the research and training of graduate students and a post-doctoral researcher and will further foster an extensive public outreach collaboration.
Person Role
Burns, Jennifer Investigator
Antarctic Organisms and Ecosystems Award # 1246463
AMD - DIF Record(s)
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
1 (processed data)
  1. Beltran, R. S., Kirkham, A. L., Breed, G. A., Testa, J. W., & Burns, J. M. (2019). Reproductive success delays moult phenology in a polar mammal. Scientific Reports, 9(1). (doi:10.1038/s41598-019-41635-x)
  2. Frankfurter, G., Beltran, R. S., Hoard, M., & Burns, J. M. (2019). Rapid prototyping and 3D printing of antarctic seal flipper tags. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 43(2), 313–316. (doi:10.1002/wsb.964)
  3. Beltran, R. S., Kilpatrick, A. M., Breed, G. A., Adachi, T., Takahashi, A., Naito, Y., … Burns, J. M. (2021). Seasonal resource pulses and the foraging depth of a Southern Ocean top predator. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1947), 20202817. (doi:10.1098/rspb.2020.2817)
  4. Varsani, A., Frankfurter, G., Stainton, D., Male, M. F., Kraberger, S., & Burns, J. M. (2017). Identification of a polyomavirus in Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) from the Ross Sea (Antarctica). Archives of Virology, 162(5), 1403–1407. (doi:10.1007/s00705-017-3239-y)
  5. Beltran, R. S., Ruscher-Hill, B., Kirkham, A. L., & Burns, J. M. (2018). An evaluation of three-dimensional photogrammetric and morphometric techniques for estimating volume and mass in Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddellii. PLOS ONE, 13(1), e0189865. (doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0189865)
  6. Salas, L., Nur, N., Ainley, D., Burns, J., Rotella, J., & Ballard, G. (2017). Coping with the loss of large, energy‐dense prey: a potential bottleneck for Weddell Seals in the Ross Sea. Ecological Applications, 27(1), 10–25. (doi:10.1002/eap.1435)
  7. Shero, M. R., Adams, G. P., & Burns, J. M. (2015). Field Use of Ultrasonography to Characterize the Reproductive Tract and Early Pregnancy in a Phocid, the Weddell Seal (Leptonychotes weddellii). The Anatomical Record, 298(12), 1970–1977. (doi:10.1002/ar.23264)
  8. Skyla M Walcott, Amy L Kirkham, Jennifer M Burns, Thermoregulatory costs in molting Antarctic Weddell seals: impacts of physiological and environmental conditions: Themed Issue Article: Conservation of Southern Hemisphere Mammals in a Changing World, Conservation Physiology, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2020, coaa022, (doi:10.1093/conphys/coaa022)
Platforms and Instruments

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