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Survival in a long-lived territorial migrant: effects of life-history traits and ecological conditions in wintering and breeding areas


  • Juan M. Grande,

  • David Serrano,

  • Giacomo Tavecchia,

  • Martina Carrete,

  • Olga Ceballos,

  • Ricardo Díaz-Delgado,

  • José L. Tella,

  • José A. Donázar

J. M. Grande (, Dept of Biology, Univ. of Saskatchewan, 112 Science Pl., Saskatoon, SK, S7N 5E2, Canada. – D. Serrano, M. Carrete, O. Ceballos, R. Díaz-Delgado, J. L. Tella and J. A. Donázar, Dept of Conservation Biology, Estación Biológica de Doñana (CSIC), Avda. M. Luisa s/n, ES–41013, Seville, Spain. – G. Tavecchia, Inst. Mediterrani d'Estudis Avançats (CSIC),Carrer Miquel Marqués 21, ES–07190, Esporles, Spain.


Despite its key role in population dynamics and evolutionary ecology, little is known about factors shaping survival in long-lived territorial species. Here, we assessed several hypotheses that might explain variability in survival in a migratory Spanish population of a long-lived territorial species, the Egyptian vulture Neophron percnopterus, using a 16-year monitoring period and live-encounter histories of 835 individually marked birds. Cormack-Jolly-Seber capture–recapture models showed no evidence for effects of sex or nestling body condition on survival. However, the normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI; an indicator of primary productivity) of natal territories had positive effects on juvenile survival, indicating that environmental conditions experienced early in life can determine survival prospects. Survival increased with age (0.73±0.02 in the first 2 years to 0.78±0.03 in years 3 and 4) to later decrease when birds were five years old (0.60±0.05), the age at which they acquire the adult plumage, abandon the communal lifestyle of juveniles, and may look for a breeding territory. At older ages, survival was higher for non-breeding (0.75±0.02) and breeding adults (0.83±0.02). Among the latter, birds that recruited into better territories had higher survival prospects. Age-specific variation in survival in this species may be related to behavioural changes linked to dispersal and recruitment into the breeding population, while survival prospects of adult birds strongly depend on breeding territory selection. These results suggest a tradeoff between recruiting soon, and thus reducing mortality costs of a long and extensive dispersal period, and trying to recruit into a good quality territory. Finally, annual survival rates for birds of all age classes were positively related with the NDVI in their African wintering grounds. Although this relationship was probably mediated by food availability, further research is needed to properly identify the limiting factors that are affecting trans-Saharan migrants, especially in light of global climate change.