Shifts in maternal foraging strategies during pregnancy promote offspring health and survival in a marine top predator

Mauricio Seguel, Blanca E. Molina-Burgos, Diego J. Perez-Venegas, Gustavo Chiang, Chris Harrod, Eugene DeRango, Hector Paves

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The success of maternal foraging strategies during the rearing period can greatly impact the physiology and survival of dependent offspring. Surprisingly though, little is known on the fitness consequences of foraging strategies during the foetal period. In this study, we characterized variation in maternal foraging strategy throughout pregnancy in a marine top predator (South American fur seal, Arctocephalus australis), and asked if these shifts predicted neonatal health and postnatal survival. We found that during early pregnancy all pregnant females belonged to a single, homogenized foraging niche without evident clusters. Intriguingly though, during late pregnancy, individual fur seal mothers diverged into two distinct foraging niches characterized by a benthic-nearshore and a pelagic-offshore strategy. Females that shifted towards the benthic-nearshore strategy gave birth to pups with greater body mass, higher plasmatic levels of glucose and lower levels of blood urea nitrogen. The pups born to these benthic females were eight times more likely to survive compared to females using the pelagic-offshore foraging strategy during late pregnancy. These survival effects were mediated primarily by the impact of foraging strategies on neonatal glucose independent of protein metabolic profile and body mass. Benthic-nearshore foraging strategies during late pregnancy potentially allow for the greater maternal transfer of glucose to the foetus, leading to higher chances of neonatal survival. These results call for a deeper understanding of the balance between resource acquisition and allocation provided by distinct foraging polymorphisms during critical life-history periods, and how this trade-off may be adaptive under certain environmental conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-354
Number of pages12
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • Foraging strategy
  • Individual variation
  • Marine top predators
  • Neonatal survival
  • Pregnancy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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