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High within-winter and annual survival rates in a declining Afro-Palaearctic migratory bird suggest that wintering conditions do not limit populations

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Abstract

For migratory birds, it is necessary to estimate annual and overwinter survival rates, identify factors that influence survival, and assess whether survival varies with age and sex if we are to understand population dynamics and thus inform conservation. This study is one of the first to document overwinter and annual survival from the wintering grounds of a declining Afro-Palaearctic migrant bird, the Whinchat Saxicola rubetra. We monitored a population of marked individuals for which dispersal was low and detectability was high, allowing accurate estimates of survival. Annual survival was at least 52% and did not differ significantly across demographic groups or with habitat characteristics or residency time in the previous winter. Overwinter survival was very high and monthly survival at least 98% at some sites. Although winter residency varied spatially and with age, lower residency did not correlate with reduced annual survival, suggesting occupancy of multiple wintering sites rather than higher winter mortality of individuals with shorter residency. Our results suggest that mortality occurs primarily outside the wintering period, probably during migration, and that wintering conditions have minimal influence on survival. The similarity between survival rates for all age and sex classes when measured on the wintering grounds implies that any difference in survival with age or sex occurs only during the first migration or during the post-fledging stage, and that selection of wintering habitat, or territory quality, makes little difference to survival in Whinchats. Our findings suggest that the wintering grounds do not limit populations as much as the migratory and breeding stages, with implications for the conservation of declining Afro-Palaearctic migrants more widely.
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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)92-105
JournalIbis
Volume158
Issue number1
Early online date7 Nov 2015
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2016

    Research areas

  • Afro-Palaearctic migrant, Overwinter survival, Population dynamics, Whinchat, Winter ecology

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