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Natal location influences movement and survival of a spatially structured population of snail kites


Despite the accepted importance of the need to better understand how natal location affects movement decisions and survival of animals, robust estimates of movement and survival in relation to the natal location are lacking. Our study focuses on movement and survival related to the natal location of snail kites in Florida and shows that kites, in addition to exhibiting a high level of site tenacity to breeding regions, also exhibit particular attraction to their natal region. More specifically, we found that estimates of movement from post-dispersal regions were greater toward natal regions than toward non-natal regions (differences were significant for three of four regions). We also found that estimates of natal philopatry were greater than estimates of philopatry to non-natal regions (differences were statistically significant for two of four regions). A previous study indicated an effect of natal region on juvenile survival; in this study, we show an effect of natal region on adult survival. Estimates of adult survival varied among kites that were hatched in different regions. Adults experienced mortality rates characteristic of the region occupied at the time when survival was measured, but because there is a greater probability that kites will return to their natal region than to any other regions, their survival was ultimately influenced by their natal region. In most years, kites hatched in southern regions had greater survival probabilities than did kites hatched in northern regions. However, during a multiregional drought, one of the northern regions served as a refuge from drought, and during this perturbation, survival was greater for birds hatched in the north. Our study shows that natal location may be important in influencing the ecological dynamics of kites but also highlights the importance of considering temporal variation in habitat conditions of spatially structured systems when attempting to evaluate the conservation value of habitats.

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We are grateful to Jim Nichols, Don DeAngelis and one anonymous reviewer for their insightful comments. Robert Bennetts and Vicky Dreitz designed the monitoring study and collected most of the data. Financial support was provided by the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish and Wildlife Service, St Johns River Water Management District, and USGS. The work conforms to the legal requirements of the USA in which it was conducted.

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Corresponding author

Correspondence to Julien Martin.

Additional information

Communicated by Craig Osenberg.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.


Electronic Supplementary Material S1. Major wetland complexes (i.e., regions) used by the snail kite in Florida. Kissimmee Chain of Lakes (K), Everglades (E), Lake Okeechobee (L), and Saint Johns Marsh (J). (PDF 19 kb)


Electronic Supplementary Material S2. Multistate models of apparent survival (ϕ AD survival of adults, ϕ J survival of juveniles) and annual transition probabilities (ψ) among the four major wetland complexes used by snail kites in Florida between 1992 and 2004. Factors incorporated in the models included: age, region, natal region, and a drought effect on movement and survival. Models presented in this table are not supported by the data (ΔAICc> 11). (PDF 147 kb)

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Martin, J., Kitchens, W.M. & Hines, J.E. Natal location influences movement and survival of a spatially structured population of snail kites. Oecologia 153, 291–301 (2007).

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  • Habitat selection
  • Multistate capture–recapture models
  • Philopatry
  • Rostrhamus sociabilis