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Linking Canadian Harvested Juvenile American Black Ducks to Their Natal Areas Using Stable Isotope (δD, δ13C, and δ15N) Methods

Keywords: American Black Duck , Anas rubripes , harvest and habitat management , natal areas , stable isotopes

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Understanding source-sink dynamics of game birds is essential to harvest and habitat management but acquiring this information is often logistically and financially challenging using traditional methods of population surveys and banding studies. This is especially true for species such as the American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), which have low breeding densities and extensive breeding ranges that necessitate extensive surveys and banding programs across eastern North America. Despite this effort, the contribution of birds fledged from various landscapes and habitat types within specific breeding ranges to regional harvest is largely unknown but remains an important consideration in adaptive harvest management and targeted habitat conservation strategies. We investigated if stable isotope (δD, δ13C, δ15N) could augment our present understanding of connectivity between breeding and harvest areas and so provide information relevant to the two main management strategies for black ducks, harvest and habitat management. We obtained specimens from 200 hatch-year Black Duck wings submitted to the Canadian Wildlife Service Species Composition Survey. Samples were obtained from birds harvested in Western, Central, and Eastern breeding/harvest subregions to provide a sample representative of the range and harvest rate of birds harvested in Canada. We sampled only hatch-year birds to provide an unambiguous and direct link between production and harvest areas. Marine origins were assigned to 12%, 7%, and 5% of birds harvested in the Eastern, Central, and Western subregions, respectively. In contrast, 32%, 9%, and 5% of birds were assigned, respectively, to agricultural origins. All remaining birds were assigned to nonagricultural origins. We portrayed probability of origin using a combination of Bayesian statistical and GIS methods. Placement of most eastern birds was western Nova Scotia, eastern New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and southern Newfoundland. Agricultural birds from the Central region were consistent with the Saguenay region of Québec and the eastern claybelt with nonagricultural birds originating in the boreal. Western nonagricultural birds were associated with broad boreal origins from southern James Bay to Lake of the Woods and east to Cochrane, Ontario. Our work shows that the geographic origins, landscape, and habitat associations of hatch-year Black Ducks can be inferred using this technique and we recommend that a broad-scale isotopic study using a large sample of Canadian and US harvested birds be implemented to provide a continental perspec


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