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Population ecology of breeding Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska

November 1, 2012

Populations of Pacific common eiders (Somateria mollissima v-nigrum) on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YKD) in western Alaska declined by 50–90% from 1957 to 1992 and then stabilized at reduced numbers from the early 1990s to the present. We investigated the underlying processes affecting their population dynamics by collection and analysis of demographic data from Pacific common eiders at 3 sites on the YKD (1991–2004) for 29 site-years. We examined variation in components of reproduction, tested hypotheses about the influence of specific ecological factors on life-history variables, and investigated their relative contributions to local population dynamics. Reproductive output was low and variable, both within and among individuals, whereas apparent survival of adult females was high and relatively invariant (0.89 ± 0.005). All reproductive parameters varied across study sites and years. Clutch initiation dates ranged from 4 May to 28 June, with peak (modal) initiation occurring on 26 May. Females at an island study site consistently initiated clutches 3–5 days earlier in each year than those on 2 mainland sites. Population variance in nest initiation date was negatively related to the peak, suggesting increased synchrony in years of delayed initiation. On average, total clutch size (laid) ranged from 4.8 to 6.6 eggs, and declined with date of nest initiation. After accounting for partial predation and non-viability of eggs, average clutch size at hatch ranged from 2.0 to 5.8 eggs. Within seasons, daily survival probability (DSP) of nests was lowest during egg-laying and late-initiation dates. Estimated nest survival varied considerably across sites and years (mean = 0.55, range: 0.06–0.92), but process variance in nest survival was relatively low (0.02, CI: 0.01–0.05), indicating that most variance was likely attributed to sampling error. We found evidence that observer effects may have reduced overall nest survival by 0.0–0.36 across site-years. Study sites with lower sample sizes and more frequent visitations appeared to experience greater observer effects. In general, Pacific common eiders exhibited high spatio-temporal variance in reproductive components. Larger clutch sizes and high nest survival at early initiation dates suggested directional selection favoring early nesting. However, stochastic environmental effects may have precluded response to this apparent selection pressure. Our results suggest that females breeding early in the season have the greatest reproductive value, as these birds lay the largest clutches and have the highest probability of successfully hatching. We developed stochastic, stage-based, matrix population models that incorporated observed spatio-temporal (process) variance and co-variation in vital rates, and projected the stable stage distribution () and population growth rate (λ). We used perturbation analyses to examine the relative influence of changes in vital rates on λ and variance decomposition to assess the proportion of variation in λ explained by process variation in each vital rate. In addition to matrix-based λ, we estimated λ using capture–recapture approaches, and log-linear regression. We found the stable age distribution for Pacific common eiders was weighted heavily towards experienced adult females (≥4 yr of age), and all calculations of λ indicated that the YKD population was stable to slightly increasing (λmatrix = 1.02, CI: 1.00–1.04); λreverse-capture–recapture = 1.05, CI: 0.99–1.11; λlog-linear = 1.04, CI: 0.98–1.10). Perturbation analyses suggested the population would respond most dramatically to changes in adult female survival (relative influence of adult survival was 1.5 times that of fecundity), whereas retrospective variation in λ was primarily explained by fecundity parameters (60%), particularly duckling survival (42%). Among components of fecundity, sensitivities were highest for duckling survival, suggesti

Publication Year 2012
Title Population ecology of breeding Pacific common eiders on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska
DOI 10.1002/wmon.8
Authors Heather M. Wilson, Paul L. Flint, Abby N. Powell, J. Barry Grand, Christine L. Moral
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Wildlife Monographs
Index ID 70101174
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB