David Rosen

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Assistant Professor

Research Classification

Research Interests

Physiology, behaviour, and ecology of marine mammals;
Conservation physiology

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Graduate Student Supervision

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Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

The Influence of diet quality on the divergent population trends of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) in the Channel Islands and the Gulf of California (2023)

The global population of California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) has declined in the Gulf of California (Mexico), while numbers have increased along the California coastline (U.S.). It is unclear what is behind the divergent population trends, but differences in diets likely play a role. I used diet data to investigate whether the changes in sea lion population numbers that occurred in sea lion numbers from 1980–2020 could be explained by differences or shifts in diet quality — specifically energy density and diet diversity. I also explored whether diet quality in the Gulf of California was affected by increased sea surface temperatures that occurred in 2014. I considered rookeries in California (Channel Islands) to be a single ecological Zone and divided the Gulf of California breeding islands into nine Zones based on geographic proximities and similarities in population trajectories. Years with matching population and diet data within all these Zones were used to test for relationships between measures of diet quality and population changes. My results showed that diet variability and composition differed between the Channel Islands and the Zones within the Gulf of California. In general, sea lions breeding in the Gulf of California consumed a large variety of mostly benthic species and schooling fish, whereas sea lions at the Channel Islands primarily consumed schooling fish and squid. Contrary to expectations, no significant relationships were found between population changes and measures of diet quality across all Zones and times. However, the average energy density of sea lion diets in certain Zones within the Gulf of California declined as sea surface temperatures increased. While my results did not reveal a direct relationship between population changes and diet quality, they demonstrate the significance of considering the influence of environmental heterogeneity on regional population dynamics. My results also highlight the importance of better understanding the ecosystem dynamics of the Gulf of California at small regional scales. Such findings may be key to fully understanding the interplay between environmental changes, diets, and future population trajectories of California sea lions and other pinniped species in geographic locations throughout Mexico and the U.S.

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Post-dive gas recovery and the transition between metabolic states as physiological limits to diving in Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) (2019)

Marine mammal diving behaviour is influenced by multiple physiological processes, both at depth and at the surface. To date, the majority of research in diving physiology has focused solely on how quickly marine mammals utilize their O₂ during a dive, as seen in the numerous studies of the aerobic dive limit (ADL) and calculated aerobic dive limit (cADL). In this thesis I investigated other physiological limits, namely how long it takes for marine mammals to recover after a dive, and how these animals transition between aerobic and anaerobic metabolism at depth. Specifically, I 1) determined how post-dive rates of O₂ and CO₂ gas exchange are affected by dive behaviour, and 2) measured how lactate accumulates with increased dive time, and examined how this indicator of metabolic transition affected post-dive recovery times. To measure gas exchange, I used flow-through respirometry to determine the time required for Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) to reach within 5% of stable rates of O₂ uptake and CO₂ excretion following a dive. These times were interpreted as the O₂ and CO₂ recovery times, respectively. CO₂ recovery time was longer and became more extended with increasing dive time when compared to O₂, requiring an extra 44 sec per minute submerged for CO₂ as opposed to 33 sec per minute submerged for O₂. This indicates that recovery time was limited by CO₂ as opposed to O₂, and this difference became greater with increased dive time. Contrary to traditional models, plasma lactate concentration was present even after short dives, and increased linearly with dive duration. Neither O₂ nor CO₂ recovery rates were affected by levels of blood lactate. This indicates that anaerobic metabolism may be used long before the body’s total O₂ -stores have been consumed. These results support the idea that there is not a distinct threshold between aerobic and anaerobic pathways, but rather a progressive transition, which casts doubt on the usual interpretations of the ADL and cADL. My thesis challenges long-held assertions in diving physiology, and underlines the need to further examine how CO₂ and lactate accumulation may act as limits to diving behaviour.

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Daily energy expenditure of northern fur seals: Techniques and measurements (2014)

Seasonal changes in the daily energy expenditure (DEE) of captive northern fur seals (Callorhinus ursinus) and key components of their energy budget (cost of resting metabolism, thermoregulation, activity and growth) were examined to elucidate potential reasons for the species’ population decline in the wild. The average DEE of 6 females was 527.8 ± 65.7 kJ kg-¹ d-¹ and fluctuated seasonally (~20% greater in the fall than in the winter). Resting metabolism also changed significantly with season, and was higher in the fall (potentially due to molting or as preparation for migratory activity). While resting metabolism was the largest component of the DEE (~80% on average), it did not follow the same seasonal trend as DEE, and therefore was not the source of the seasonal variation in DEE. Cost of activity was the second major component of DEE and may explain the observed seasonal variations. Energetic costs associated with thermoregulation appeared to be negligible. The northern fur seals were thermally neutral in all seasons for all water temperatures tested (2 °C – 18 °C), except during the summer when immersed in 2 °C water. Comparing this broad thermal neutral zone to the average sea surface temperatures encountered by fur seals in the wild during annual migrations indicates that fur seals can likely exploit a large geographic area without added thermal metabolic costs. While the direct energetic costs of growth appeared to be negligible compared to DEE, the higher growth rates in the summer and elevated resting metabolism in the fall suggests that inadequate nutrition could have greater negative effects during these seasons. Two alternative proxies for measuring energy expenditure were tested and calibrated against respirometry for potential application to wild individuals. The doubly labeled water (DLW) method over-estimated DEE by 13.1 ± 16.5% compared to respirometry. In comparison, accelerometry over-estimated DEE, using fine time scale intervals of 60 and 15 min, by an average of 5.4 ± 29.3% and 13.8 ± 39.5%, respectively. Importantly, seasonal effects (and time of day for accelerometry) must be accounted for when estimating energy expenditure from measures of DLW and acceleration in free-swimming northern fur seals.

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Oxygen stores, carbon dioxide accumulation and nutritional status as determinants of diving ability of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) (2013)

The diving ability of marine mammals is limited by body oxygen stores (TBO) and rates of oxygen depletion (diving metabolic rate; DMR), which can be expressed as the calculated aerobic dive limit (cADL). Diving ability must also be influenced by CO₂ production and control of ventilation. I investigated the factors that limit the diving ability of Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus), including the effect of nutritional stress on the cADL. Specifically, I 1) determined the cADL of Steller sea lions by measuring TBO and DMR, 2) determined whether nutritional stress alters the cADL and 3) examined the post-dive elimination of CO₂, and the sensitivity of Steller sea lions to hypercapnia (high inspired CO₂). TBO was estimated from measured blood oxygen stores and body composition―and metabolic rate, breathing frequency and dive behaviour were recorded prior to and during a period of nutritional stress where animals lost ~10% of their mass. Animals breathed ambient, hypercapnic or hypoxic (low O₂) air to experimentally alter pCO₂ levels and decrease rates of CO₂ elimination and O₂ consumption. I found that the TBO (35.9 ml O₂ kg-¹) and cADL (3.0 minutes) in actively diving Steller sea lions were lower than previously reported for other species of sea lions and fur seals. I also found a significant increase in mass-specific DMR and blood volume (resulting in higher TBO) in nutritionally stressed animals that resulted in a longer cADL. Hypercapnia was found to significantly affect ventilation, but had no effect on dive behaviour―and elimination of CO₂ between dives took longer than replenishing O₂ stores. Overall, nutritional stress and hypercapnic conditions did not directly limit the diving ability of the Steller sea lions, but had an indirect effect on foraging efficiency by increasing the time they spent on the surface between dives. Accumulation of CO₂ over several dives in a foraging bout also appeared to reduce foraging efficiency, which likely ultimately limits the time a sea lion spends in apnea and therefore overall foraging duration and net energy intake.

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