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Contrasting age-specific recruitment and survival at different spatial scales: a case study with the European storm petrel

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Evolutionary studies on optimal decisions or conservation guidelines are often derived by generalising patterns from a single population, while inter-population variability in life-history traits is seldom considered. We investigated here how survival and recruitment probabilities changed with age at different geographical scales using the encounter histories of 5523 European storm petrels from three Mediterranean colonies, and also how our estimates of these parameters might be expected to affect population growth rates using population matrix models. We recorded similar patterns among colonies, but also important biological differences. Local survival, recruitment and breeding success increased with age at all colonies; the most distant of three colonies (Marettimo Is.) showed the largest differences. Strikingly, differences in recruitment were also found between two adjacent colonies (two caves from Benidorm Is.). Birds marked as adults from Marettimo and Benidorm colonies had a different survival, whereas we found no differences within Benidorm. Differences in survival were no longer apparent between the two islands at the end of the study following a reduction in predation by specialist gulls at Benidorm. Since birds marked as fledglings mostly recruited near the end of the study, their overall survival was high and in turn similar among colonies. Results from our population matrix models suggested that different age-dependent patterns of demographic parameters can lead to similar population growth rates. Variability appeared to be greater for recruitment and the most sensitive parameter was adult survival. Thus conservation actions targeting this vulnerable species should focus on factors influencing adult survival. Differences in survival and recruitment among colonies could reflect the spatial heterogeneity in mortality due to predation and colony-specific density dependent processes. Results highlight the importance of taking into account the potential spatio-temporal heterogeneity among populations in vital rates, even in those traits that life-history theory considers less important in driving population dynamics.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: August 1, 2009

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