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Life and Death in the Fast Lane: Demographic Consequences of Road Mortality in the Florida Scrub-Jay

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We examined the demographic consequences of road mortality in the cooperatively breeding Florida Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma coerulescens), a threatened species restricted to the oak scrub of peninsular Florida. Between May 1986 and July 1995 we monitored the survival and reproductive success of a color-banded population of jays along a two-lane highway at Archbold Biological Station. Annual mortality of breeding adults was 0.38 on road territories, significantly higher than the rate of 0.23 for breeders on nonroad territories. High mortality on road territories appeared to be a direct result of automobile traffic per se and not a consequence of road-induced changes in habitat characteristics. Mortality was especially high for immigrants without previous experience living along the road: in their first two years as breeders on road territories, naive immigrants experienced annual mortality of 0.50 and 0.45. From year 3 onward, however, annual mortality dropped to 0.29, not significantly different from the rate for birds on nonroad territories. This experience-dependent decline in road mortality could be caused either by surviving jays learning to avoid automobiles or by selective mortality operating through time (demographic heterogeneity). Proximity to the road had no effect on nesting success beyond its indirect effects on breeder experience and group size. Because the mortality of 30- to 90-day-old fledglings was significantly higher on road territories than on nonroad territories, however, breeder mortality greatly exceeded production of yearlings on road territories. Roadside territories therefore are sinks that can maintain populations of Florida Scrub-Jays only via immigration. Because Florida Scrub-Jays do not avoid roadside habitats and may even be attracted to them, road mortality presents a difficult challenge for the management and conservation of this threatened and declining species.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Biology, Allegheny College, Meadville, PA 16335, U.S.A., 2: Department of Biology and Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, U.S.A. 3: Archbold Biological Station, Venus, FL 33960, U.S.A. 4: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, 159 Sapsucker Woods Road, Ithaca, NY 14850, U.S.A.

Publication date: April 1, 2000

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