Seasonal survival estimation for a long-distance migratory bird and the influence of winter precipitation

Abstract

Conservation of migratory animals requires information about seasonal survival rates. Identifying factors that limit populations, and the portions of the annual cycle in which they occur, are critical for recognizing and reducing potential threats. However, such data are lacking for virtually all migratory taxa. We investigated patterns and environmental correlates of annual, oversummer, overwinter, and migratory survival for adult male Kirtland’s warblers (Setophaga kirtlandii), an endangered, long-distance migratory songbird. We used Cormack–Jolly–Seber models to analyze two mark–recapture datasets: 2006–2011 on Michigan breeding grounds, and 2003–2010 on Bahamian wintering grounds. The mean annual survival probability was 0.58 ± 0.12 SE. Monthly survival probabilities during the summer and winter stationary periods were relatively high (0.963 ± 0.005 SE and 0.977 ± 0.002 SE, respectively). Monthly survival probability during migratory periods was substantially lower (0.879 ± 0.05 SE), accounting for ~44% of all annual mortality. March rainfall in the Bahamas was the best-supported predictor of annual survival probability and was positively correlated with apparent annual survival in the subsequent year, suggesting that the effects of winter precipitation carried over to influence survival probability of individuals in later seasons. Projection modeling revealed that a decrease in Bahamas March rainfall >12.4% from its current mean could result in negative population growth in this species. Collectively, our results suggest that increased drought during the non-breeding season, which is predicted to occur under multiple climate change scenarios, could have important consequences on the annual survival and population growth rate of Kirtland’s warbler and other Neotropical–Nearctic migratory bird species.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the two anonymous reviewers whose comments substantially improved this manuscript. This research was completed with approval from the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team and the IACUCs of the University of Maryland and Smithsonian National Zoological Park. All applicable institutional and/or national guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed. The Michigan portion of this research was supported by the American Ornithologists’ Union, Cooper Ornithological Society, Manomet Center for Conservation Science, Smithsonian Institution, University of Maryland, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and USDA Forest Service. We thank 15 enthusiastic field assistants for their hard work at Michigan study sites. We are grateful to C. Studds and J. Hostetler for assistance with fieldwork and statistics, respectively. We additionally thank the dedicated team of eight Bahamian student interns and ten field assistants who carried out field work on Eleuthera, as well as E. Carey of the Bahamas National Trust. We greatly appreciate the local support provided by Bahamian landowners and commonage committees for permitting access to their lands. Funding for Eleuthera work was provided by International Programs of the USDA Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Puerto Rican Conservation Foundation, working in cooperation with the Bahamas National Trust, the College of the Bahamas, and the University of Puerto Rico. The National Climatic Data Center of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association is available online at http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/IPS/mcdw/mcdw.html.

Author contribution statement

SMR, PPM, TSS formulated the idea. SMR, PPM, JMW, CIB developed the methodology. SMR, JMW, DC, JDW, DNE performed the field work. SMR and TSS analyzed the data. SMR and all other authors prepared the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Sarah M. Rockwell.

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Communicated by Markku Orell.

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Rockwell, S.M., Wunderle, J.M., Sillett, T.S. et al. Seasonal survival estimation for a long-distance migratory bird and the influence of winter precipitation. Oecologia 183, 715–726 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-016-3788-x

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Keywords

  • Annual survival
  • Carryover effects
  • Kirtland’s warbler
  • Non-breeding season
  • Population growth