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Use of genetic mark-recapture to estimate breeding site fidelity and philopatry in a threatened sea duck population, Alaska-breeding Steller’s eiders

April 9, 2020

The Steller’s eider (Polysticta stelleri) is a sea duck that breeds in Arctic tundra regions of Russia and Alaska. The Alaska-breeding population is listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act because of a perceived contraction of their breeding range in North America. Understanding demographic rates of the listed population is critical for determining and evaluating measures that can lead to an increase in abundance and thus, long-term viability. Specifically, estimates of return rates to breeding areas by adult females and natal areas by juvenile females are needed for planning effective recovery actions. We used a suite of polymorphic loci to genotype individuals and generated genetic profiles of nesting females and female offspring from nest materials collected from 1995 – 2016 in a ~170 km2 study area near Utqiaġvik, Alaska. We analyzed capture histories of genetically-identified individuals to estimate breeding site fidelity, temporary emigration, and natal site fidelity (philopatry). From a sample of 365 nests, we found that breeding site fidelity of adult females was high (0.91, SE 0.07) and temporary emigration also was high (0.77, SE 0.06) and variable across years (range 0.34 – 0.97). From egg shell remains of 124 hatched females, we observed nine recaptures as nesting adults, suggesting that philopatry was also high (range 0.6-1.0). Given the relatively high rates of adult female breeding site fidelity and female philopatry that we estimated, management actions that reduce mortality of adult females and increase annual productivity are likely to help maintain the population of a few hundred breeding Steller’s eiders on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2020
Title Use of genetic mark-recapture to estimate breeding site fidelity and philopatry in a threatened sea duck population, Alaska-breeding Steller’s eiders
DOI 10.3354/esr01026
Authors David Safine, Mark S. Lindberg, Kate Martin, Sandra L. Talbot, Ted Swem, John M. Pearce, Neesha Stellrecht, Kevin Sage, Ann E. Riddle, Kyrstal Fales, Tuula E. Hollmen
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Endangered Species Research
Series Number
Index ID 70209475
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB

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