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Survival of adult Red-throated Loons (Gavia stellata) may be linked to marine conditions

January 1, 2014

Large variations in the summering population size of Red-throated Loons (Gavia stellata) have occurred in recent decades in Alaska. Little information exists about annual or seasonal survival rates of adult Red-throated Loons. This study used tracking data from satellite transmitters implanted into 33 Red-throated Loons captured on breeding areas in Alaska to estimate annual survival with the sampling effort split between two study periods: 2000–2002 and 2008–2010. Mortality was inferred from transmitted sensor data that indicated body temperature of the Red-throated Loon and voltage of the transmitter's battery. Two definitive mortalities occurred, resulting in an annual survival estimate of 0.920 (SE = 0.054). The fates of two additional Red-throated Loons were ambiguous and, when treated as mortalities, the annual survival estimate was 0.838 (SE = 0.074). All four putative mortalities occurred during the non-breeding season in the early study period. Oceanic conditions, indexed by the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, appeared to differ between the study periods with higher Pacific Decadal Oscillation values associated with the early study period. Given that high values for Pacific Decadal Oscillation were also associated with the large decline of Red-throated Loons observed in Alaska during 1977–1993, this study suggests that survival of adult Red-throated Loons may vary in relation to the state of the marine ecosystem and thus contribute to long-term variation in population trends.

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