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Population Change in a Marine Bird Colony is Driven By Changes in Recruitment

DOI: 10.5751/ace-00482-060205

Keywords: breeding colony , philopatry , population dynamics , recruitment , reproduction , survival , Synthliboramphus antiquus

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Abstract:

The population dynamics of long-lived birds are thought to be very sensitive to changes in adult survival. However, where natal philopatry is low, recruitment from the larger metapopulation may have the strongest effect on population growth rate even in long-lived species. Here, we illustrate such a situation where changes in a seabird colony size appeared to be the consequence of changes in recruitment. We studied the population dynamics of a declining colony of Ancient Murrelets (Synthliboramphus antiquus) at East Limestone Island, British Columbia. During 1990-2010, Ancient Murrelet chicks were trapped at East Limestone Island while departing to sea, using a standard trapping method carried on throughout the departure period. Adult murrelets were trapped while departing from the colony during 1990-2003. Numbers of chicks trapped declined during 1990-1995, probably because of raccoon predation, increased slightly from 1995-2000 and subsequently declined again. Reproductive success was 30% lower during 2000-2003 than in earlier years, mainly because of an increase in desertions. The proportion of nonbreeders among adult birds trapped at night also declined over the study period. Mortality of adult birds, thought to be mainly prebreeders, from predators more than doubled over the same period. Apparent adult survival of breeders remained constant during 1991-2002 once the first year after banding was excluded, but the apparent survival rates in the first year after banding fell and the survival of birds banded as chicks to age three halved over the same period. A matrix model of population dynamics suggested that even during the early part of the study immigration from other breeding areas must have been substantial, supporting earlier observations that natal philopatry in this species is low. The general colony decline after 2000 probably was related to diminished recruitment, as evidenced by the lower proportion of nonbreeders in the trapped sample. Hence the trend is determined by the recruitment decisions of externally reared birds, rather than demographic factors operating on the local breeding population, an unusual situation for a colonial marine bird. Because of the contraction in the colony it may now be subject to a level of predation pressure from which recovery will be impossible without some form of intervention.

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