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Brood ecology and population dynamics of King Eiders



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Birth and death processes and the extent of dispersal directly affect population dynamics. Knowledge of ecological factors that influence these processes provides insight into natural selection and understanding about changes in population size. King eiders (Somateria spectabilis) breed across the arctic region of North America and winter in polar oceanic waters of the western and eastern regions of the continent. Here I studied a local population of King Eiders at Karrak Lake, Nunavut, where I used analysis of naturally-occurring stable isotopes (13C, 15N) from feathers, in conjunction with banding data, to investigate the extent of dispersal among winter areas and the influence of winter area on subsequent breeding. In addition, I used capture-mark-recapture methods to (1) investigate the relative contributions of survival and recruitment probabilities to local population dynamics, and (2) to test hypotheses about the influence of specific ecological factors on those probabilities or their components, e.g., nest success, duckling survival. Isotopic data suggested that female King Eiders were not strongly philopatric to wintering areas between years. Individuals that wintered in western seas initiated nests earlier and had slightly larger clutch sizes during early nest initiation relative to females that wintered in the east. Female condition during incubation did not vary by winter area. Female King Eiders of known breeding age were at least 3-years-old before their first breeding attempt. Age of first successful breeding attempt did not appear to be influenced by body size. However, after reaching breeding age, larger females apparently experienced greater breeding propensity. Adult survival rate (1996-2002) was estimated as 0.87 and recapture probabilities varied with time and ranged from 0.31 to 0.67. There is no evidence of survival advantages related to larger size. Population growth for this local study area was high, estimated at 20%/year with larger females contributing more to the population growth than smaller females. With continued population growth, density-dependent effects on components of recruitment appeared to emerge; the proportion of the female population that nested successfully declined with increasing population size. The probability of breeding successfully did not correlate with Mayfield estimates of nest success. To gain insight into King Eider brood ecology I, respectively, monitored 111 and 46 individually-marked ducklings from broods of 23 and 11 radio-marked King Eiders during 2000 and 2001. Total brood loss accounted for 84% of all duckling mortality with most brood loss (77%) less than 2 days after hatch. Estimated apparent survival rates of ducklings to 22 days of age were 0.10 for those that remained with radio-marked females, 0.16 for all ducklings, including those that had joined other broods, and 0.31 for broods. Ducklings brooded by larger females experienced higher survival than those brooded by smaller females, and ducklings that hatched earlier in the breeding season survived at higher rates. Overland brood movements of 1 km or more occurred in both years, and survival was greatest for ducklings that dispersed from Karrak Lake to smaller ponds than on Karrak Lake itself, the central nesting area. Estimates of duckling survival, combined with relative contributions to the population by adults, suggest that ecological factors such as body size can influence population growth. Furthermore, low duckling survival and delayed maturity, emphasize the need of high adult survival for population growth to occur. These data, in combination with evidence of dispersal among wintering areas have helped contribute to a broader understanding of North American King Eider demographics.



Brood ecology, duckling, King Eider, Somateria mollissima, Survival, waterfowl



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)






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