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Can experimental manipulation be used to determine the cause of the decline of western stock of Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus?

, : Can experimental manipulation be used to determine the cause of the decline of western stock of Steller sea lions Eumetopias jubatus?. Unknown

A variety of reasons have been postulated for the decline of Steller sea lions (Otariidae: Eumetopias jubatus) in the Northeast Pacific. To date, however, it has proved impossible to distinguish among these reasons given the available data. In principle, experimental management based on spatial replication of treatments could be used to discriminate among some of these hypotheses. A simulation protocol was developed and applied to evaluate the power of a set of potential experiments to distinguish between whether the cause of the decline was fishing-induced or due to other factors. The simulations are based on an operating model that is individual-based and spatially explicit, and can be parameterized to represent the implications of a range of possible causes for the decline. This model can be used to generate the types of data typically available for the western stock of Steller sea lions. Experiments based on splitting four of the regions identified for past analyses of population dynamics in-formation into sectors that are either open to some fishing or completely closed are considered. The performance of these experiments is, however, poor, owing to the impact of movement, different historical trends in different areas, demographic stochasticity, and the likely size of the effect that the experiments are attempting to detect. These results suggest that the currently available information imply that large-scale experimental manipulation by means of additional spatial closures, where the results are analyzed by examining trends in pup counts, is unlikely to provide an effective means of discriminating among alternative hypotheses for the decline in Steller sea lions in Alaska.

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