Linking feeding and reproductive ecology in beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhal (Monodon monoceros)

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Kelley, Tritsya
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Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhals (Monodon monoceros) are arctic specialists. Both species show philopatry to their summer grounds, though the reason for this site tenacity is not well understood. Aside from migration routes, little is known about other aspects of monodontid ecology, such as their mating and feeding ecology. An understanding of the feeding ecology of a species may provide some insights into their mating ecology, and vice versa. The purpose of this thesis is to relative testes mass and dietary biomarkers to gain insights in the mating and feeding ecology of both species, as well as possible links between the two. Relative testes and brain masses and body masses of odontocetes were collected from the literature and analysed for correlations between sexual size dimorphism (SSD), relative brain mass, and relative testes mass. Results indicate that odontocete species follow a pattern of increasing SSD with decreasing testes mass. An examination of reproductive tracts from belugas and narwhal collected across the Canadian arctic was performed to examine differences in beluga and narwhal mating systems. Belugas were found to have larger relative testes masses, and narwhal testes masses were correlated with tusk length, indicating that sperm competition may play a larger role in the beluga mating system than for narwhal, and narwhal tusks may be honest indicators of male fitness. Investigations of narwhal and beluga feeding ecology using dietary biomarkers were conducted. In the summer, belugas appear to be congregating and feeding in the estuary plume during the summer, as opposed to along ice floe edges in the spring. Spring diets are representative of diets consumed during the beluga mating season, and no sexual segregation in carbon isotopes or fatty acids was apparent. There was no evidence for sexual segregation in feeding habits outside the mating season, either. Conversely, narwhal showed some evidence of sexual segregation outside the mating season, and the sexes may be feeding in different food webs. Results suggest that belugas may have a more promiscuous mating system, while narwhals are more polygynous. Implications for conservation for both species are discussed.
odontocete, mating system, diet, Arctic, testes, tusk, sexual segregation, stable isotopes, fatty acids, sperm competition