Demographic consequences of migratory stopover: linking red knot survival to horseshoe crab spawning abundance


  • Corresponding Editor: D. P. C. Peters.



Understanding how events during one period of the annual cycle carry over to affect survival and other fitness components in other periods is essential to understanding migratory bird demography and conservation needs. Previous research has suggested that western Atlantic red knot (Calidris canutus rufa) populations are greatly affected by horseshoe crab (Limulus polyphemus) egg availability at Delaware Bay stopover sites during their spring northward migration. We present a mass-based multistate, capture-recapture/resighting model linking (1) red knot stopover mass gain to horseshoe crab spawning abundance and (2) subsequent apparent annual survival to mass state at the time of departure from the Delaware Bay stopover area. The model and analysis use capture-recapture/resighting data with over 16,000 individual captures and 13,000 resightings collected in Delaware Bay over a 12 year period from 1997–2008, and the results are used to evaluate the central management hypothesis that red knot populations can be influenced by horseshoe crab harvest regulations as part of a larger adaptive management effort. Model selection statistics showed support for a positive relationship between horseshoe crab spawning abundance during the stopover and the probability of red knots gaining mass (parameter coefficient from the top model = 1.71, inline image = 0.46). Our analyses also supported the link between red knot mass and apparent annual survival, although average estimates for the two mass classes differed only slightly. The addition of arctic snow depth as a covariate influencing apparent survival improved the fit of the data to the models (parameter coefficient from the top model = 0.50, inline image = 0.08). Our results indicate that managing horseshoe crab resources in the Delaware Bay has the potential to improve red knot population status.