Dependent vs. independent juvenile survival: contrasting drivers of variation and the buffering effect of parental care

Authors


  • Corresponding Editor: R. Greenberg.

Abstract

Juvenile survival is often found to be more sensitive than adult survival to variation in environmental conditions, and variation in juvenile survival can have significant impacts on population growth rates and viability. Therefore, understanding the population-level effects of environmental changes requires understanding the effects on juvenile survival. We hypothesized that parental care will buffer the survival of dependent juveniles from variation in environmental conditions, while the survival of independent juveniles will respond more strongly to environmental variation and, in turn, drive the overall variation in annual juvenile survival. We tested this parental-care hypothesis using a 30-year mark–recapture data set to model the survival of juvenile Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia) during the dependent and independent stages. We examined the effects of weather, density, and cohort mean fledge date and body mass on annual variation in survival during the first 12 weeks after fledging, as well as effects of individual fledge date and body mass on individual variation in survival. The primary driver of annual variation in juvenile survival was precipitation during the previous rainy season, consistent with an effect on food availability, which had a strong positive effect on the survival of independent juveniles, but no effect on dependent juveniles. We also found strong support for effects of body mass and fledge date on individual survival probability, including striking differences in the effect of fledge date by stage. Our results provided evidence that different mechanisms influence juvenile survival during each stage of fledgling development, and that parental care buffers the survival of dependent juveniles from variation in environmental conditions. Consequently, variation in juvenile survival was driven by independent juveniles, not dependent juveniles, and studies focused only on survival during the dependent stage may not be able to detect the major drivers of variation in juvenile survival. We recommend that future efforts to understand or project the population-level effects of environmental change not only examine the effects on juvenile survival, but specifically consider the survival of independent juveniles, as well as how the drivers of variation in juvenile survival may vary by stage.

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