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Maternal milk is a unique secretion that provides nutrition and passive immunity for newborns, including protection from intestinal bacteria and parasites. However, little is known if maternal milk in fur seals conveys similar protection to their pups. Researchers will assess how maternal diet (fish species consumed) in South American female fur seals impacts the survival of their pups, particularly from infections. Parasitic infections in particular are an important cause of mortality in young seals, and mortality soars over 40% when nutrient-rich prey species are less abundant. Considering the decline in ocean productivity and persistent overfishing, defining environmental factors that contribute to high-quality milk and higher survival among seal pups will help inform management strategies and policies to globally protect vulnerable seal populations and other marine mammals.

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University of Guelph
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Mauricio Seguel, DVM, PhD
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