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Visualizing populations of North American sea ducks: Maps to guide research and management planning

December 23, 2019

North American sea ducks generally breed in mid- to northern-latitude regions and nearly all rely upon marine habitats for much of their annual cycle. Most sea duck species remained poorly studied until the 1990s when declines were noted in several species and populations. Subsequent research, much of which was funded by the Sea Duck Joint Venture, began in the late 1990s with an emphasis on defining use areas throughout the annual cycle, migration patterns, and determining if there were distinct populations, within species, across North America. These studies relied largely upon satellite telemetry information to identify winter, breeding, and molting areas of sea ducks. New information from band recovery and genetic markers was added, contributing to hypotheses and initial conclusions about population delineation. Information on population units across North America is critical for identifying appropriate scales for evaluating population status and trends through annual monitoring surveys, harvest assessments, habitat protection and measuring effectiveness of management applications. Previous descriptions of population segments were for single species or smaller groups of similar species. Here, we summarize current knowledge on the general distribution and population segments of 13 species of sea ducks in North America by comparing range maps to long-term band recovery, genetic, and satellite telemetry data to inform population delineation assessments and future research. These comparisons show a high degree of consistency in population patterns for most species across the independent data types. These maps provide a foundation for developing new hypothesis-driven research to address remaining knowledge gaps and questions about population differentiation, annual cycle distribution, habitat use, and harvest assessment.