Daniel P Costa

DivisionPhysical & Biological Sciences
DepartmentEcology & Evolutionary Biology
AffiliationsEnvironmental Studies Department
Web Site Costa Lab
OfficeCenter for Ocean Health
Campus Mail StopLong Marine Lab
Mail100 Shaffer Road
Santa Cruz, CA

Research Interests

Physiological Ecology of Marine Mammals and Birds

Our laboratory is interested in the adaptations of marine mammals and seabirds to life in the marine environment. Our research integrates physiology, behavior and ecology, focusing on how marine mammals and birds are adapted to life in the ocean. Current research focuses on the movement and habitat utilization patterns, foraging ecology and energetics of pinnipeds and seabirds.

We study the diving, foraging, and searching behavior of marine mammals and seabirds, in order to determine areas and characteristics of the marine environment that are important for prey acquisition, and ultimately, the reproductive success of these animals. We investigate individual and population-level variability of diving and movement patterns in sea lions, fur seals, seals and seabirds in a variety of habitats including the Coastal California, The Galapagos, Australia, South Africa, South America and the Antarctic. We also look at how individual variation and intrinsic factors (sex and age) affect foraging behavior and movement patterns of these marine predators, and their association with differing oceanographic features. For example, we examine the relationship between animal behavior and habitat use: specifically, what oceanographic features are used by animals while they forage. This research is being conducted in northern and southern elephant seals, Weddell and crabeater seals, California, Galapagos and southern sea lions, Laysan and black-footed albatrosses, and sooty shearwaters. Collectively, these data will be used to investigate multi-species assemblages in the ocean environment and the identification of oceanic regions where these predators aggregate.

Our research on relating animal behavior to oceanography is enhanced by collecting oceanographic data from the tags deployed on the animals. By equipping our study animals with instruments that not only record the animals behavior, but collect data on water temperature, light level, and salinity we can acquire information on the animals habitat at the scale and resolution that the animal operates within. Further, such animal collected oceanographic data are proving invaluable acquiring data in regions where it is difficult or not possible to collect using existing methods (Antarctic sea-ice). Such oceanographic data are making a contribution to studies of climate change and are providing insights into how marine mammals and seabirds might respond to climate change.

Our lab has a long history in exploring the physiological mechanisms that allow animals to live where they live and to carry out their specific life histories. By investigating the interaction between physiology, behavior, and reproductive ecology of free-ranging animals we can elucidate the environmental factors influencing their distribution and abundance. Energetic expenditure is a central theme in these investigations; we are particularly interested in how animals acquire and allocate energy toward various activities. Currently, we are examining diving physiology in California and Galapagos sea lions and northern elephant seals, fasting physiology of elephant seals.