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Annual survival and population estimates of mountain plovers in southern phillips county, montana

Dinsmore, Stephen J., White, Gary C., Knopf, Fritz L.
Ecological applications 2003 v.13 no.4 pp. 1013-1026
Charadrius montanus, Cynomys ludovicianus, additive effect, adults, biologists, birds, chicks, demography, habitats, juveniles, longevity, plague, population size, survival rate, viability, Montana
Information about the demography of declining species is especially relevant to their conservation and future recovery. Knowledge of survival rates and population size can be used to assess long‐term viability and population trends, both of which are of interest to conservation biologists. We used capture–recapture techniques to study the demography of Mountain Plovers (Charadrius montanus Townsend) in southern Phillips County, Montana, USA, in 1995–2000. We used the robust design to estimate annual survival (φ), conditional capture (p and r) and recapture (c) probabilities, and the annual population size (N) in the presence of temporary emigration. The results support age‐specific differences in annual survival that are a function of juvenile body mass and are correlated with the area occupied by prairie dogs. Body mass had a positive effect on juvenile survival; the slope coefficient for the additive effect of body mass on juvenile survival was 0.77 (95% ci = 0.25, 1.28) on a logit scale. A measure of plover habitat (the area occupied by prairie dogs) appeared to have no effect on survival; the slope coefficient for the additive effect of area occupied by prairie dogs on survival was –0.00004 (95% ci = –0.00003, –0.0001) on a logit scale. Estimated annual apparent survival rates were 0.46–0.49 for juveniles and 0.68 for adult plovers. Using these estimates, the life span of a Mountain Plover was 1.92 ± 0.17 years (mean ± 1 se) from time of capture as a chick. Resighting rates positively influenced capture probabilities; the slope coefficient for the additive resighting effect was –0.49 (95% ci = –0.86, –0.11) on a logit scale. The size of this adult Mountain Plover population was estimated at 95–180 adults annually. Population size closely tracked annual changes in the area occupied by black‐tailed prairie dogs, with both plovers and prairie dogs rapidly recovering from an outbreak of sylvatic plague in the mid‐1990s. Given the low annual survival rates and low mean life expectancy of Mountain Plovers, we conclude that sustainable local populations are currently maintained by annual rates of productivity greater than those for other ground‐nesting birds.