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Department of Mathematical Sciences

Seminar Archives

On this page you can find information about seminars in this and previous academic years, where available on the database.

Biomathematics Seminar: Optimisation in Behavioural Ecology: the example of pup-rearing in seals and sea lions

Presented by Phil Stephens, Durham University (Biological and Biomedical Sciences)

27 April 2010 14:15 in CM107

I will discuss optimality theory as a useful construct for analysing the
way that plants and animals behave. I will focus on a particular class
of optimality models involving dynamic programming. I will illustrate
my talk with the ecological example of pup-rearing strategies in seals
and sea lions. Seals and sea lions belong to an order of carnivores
that, by virtue of their aquatic lifestyle and requirement to reproduce
on land but forage at sea, have highly constrained morphologies. In
spite of their high degree of morphological similarity, species from
this group show substantial variation in their strategies for caring for
offspring between birth and weaning: the weaning period can last from a
few days in some species, to well over a year in others. I use dynamic
programming to show that aspects of the food supply (including
predictable and unpredictable variation) can influence the optimal
strategy between these extremes, but that other aspects of behaviour
(including issues to do with pup development) are likely to have a
greater influence.

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