Diel, Tidal, and Sex Based Differences in Time Spent Feeding by the Florida Manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris)

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HCNSO Student Theses and Dissertations

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https://nsuworks.nova.edu/occ_stuetd/190; https://nsuworks.nova.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1207&context=occ_stuetd
Flora, Megan
Trichechus manatus latirostris; Florida manatee; feeding behavior; tides; sex differences; acoustic analysis; Marine Biology; Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology
thesis / dissertation description
The feeding behavior of an animal is based on adaptations to the environment and the animal’s body condition. The Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) is an example of a marine mammal that may alter its feeding pattern based on diel and tidal cycles. The increased presence of boats during the day could potentially cause manatees to alter their feeding rates, or the time spent feeding per hour, over the diel cycle. Tide levels may cause manatees to be restricted from areas of preferred vegetation. In addition, the differential reproductive investment between males and females may cause differential time dedicated to feeding between the sexes. This study analyzed sound recordings (lasting up to 24 hr) from manatees tagged in southwest Florida with a digital acoustic recording tag (DTAG) between April and September. Distinctive chewing sounds were indicative of feeding activity. Variation in time spent feeding was analyzed in relation to time of day, sex, female reproductive status, and water level as affected by tides. Manatees dedicated 26% of the time (6 hours) to feeding, on average. During the first year of the study, manatees spent 39% of the time feeding (9 hours), on average, over the course of a 24-hour period; during the second year they spent 15% (2 hours) over the course of a 13-hour daytime period. Adult females fed significantly more, on average, than adult males. Females in late-term pregnancy appeared to spend more time foraging than other non-lactating females, but the sample size was too small to be definitive. Manatee time spent feeding was not correlated with time of day. Increases in feeding activity occurred at mid to high tide levels. This may indicate that manatees had greater access to preferred food sources at this time. An understanding of when manatees 5 are most likely to be feeding and which environmental factors influence this activity may suggest ways to reduce impacts on the endangered population.