Age-specific survival and recruitment of piping plovers Charadrius melodus in the Great Lakes region

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Abstract

Juvenile survival and age at first breeding (i.e. recruitment) are critical parameters affecting population dynamics in birds, but high levels of natal dispersal preclude measurement of these variables in most species. We used multi-state capture–recapture models to measure age-specific survival and recruitment probabilities of piping plovers Charadrius melodus in the Great Lakes region during 1993–2012. This federally endangered population is thoroughly monitored throughout its entire breeding range, minimizing concerns that measures of survival and recruitment are confounded by temporary or permanent emigration. First-year survival (± SE) averaged 0.284 ± 0.019 from mean banding age (9 d) and 0.374 ± 0.023 from fledging age (23 d). Factors that increased first-year survival during the pre-fledging period (9–23 d) included earlier hatching dates, older age at banding, greater number of fledglings at a given site, and better body condition at time of banding. However, when chicks that died prior to fledging were excluded from analysis, only earlier hatching dates improved first-year survival estimates. Females had a higher probability (0.557 ± 0.066) of initiating breeding at age one than did males (0.353 ± 0.052), but virtually all plovers began breeding by age three. Adult survival was reduced by increased hurricane activity on the southeast U.S. Atlantic coast where Great Lakes piping plovers winter and by higher populations of merlins Falco columbarius. Mean annual adult survival declined from 1993 to 2012, and did not differ between males and females. Enhanced body condition led to higher survival to fledge and early breeding led to improved first-year survival; therefore, management actions focused on ensuring access to quality feeding habitat for growing young and protecting early nests may increase recruitment in this federally endangered population.

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