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Quantifying the demographic cost of human-related mortality to a raptor population  

Author:  | Wildlife

[Abstract]
Raptors are exposed to a wide variety of human-related mortality agents, and yet population-level effects are rarely quantified. Doing so requires modeling vital rates in the context of species life-history, behavior, and population dynamics theory. In this paper, we explore the details of such an analysis by focusing on the demography of a resident, tree-nesting population of golden eagles (Aquila chrysaetos) in the vicinity of an extensive (142 km²) windfarm in California. During 1994–2000, we tracked the fates of >250 radio-marked individuals of four life-stages and conducted five annual surveys of territory occupancy and reproduction. Collisions with wind turbines accounted for 41% of 88 uncensored fatalities, most of which were subadults and nonbreeding adults (floaters). A consistent overall male preponderance in the population meant that females were the limiting sex in this territorial, monogamous species. Estimates of potential population growth rate and associated variance indicated a stable breeding population, but one for which any further decrease in vital rates would require immigrant floaters to fill territory vacancies. Occupancy surveys 5 and 13 years later (2005 and 2013) showed that the nesting population remained intact, and no upward trend was apparent in the proportion of subadult eagles as pair members, a condition that would have suggested a deficit of adult replacements. However, the number of golden eagle pairs required to support windfarm mortality was large. We estimated that the entire annual reproductive output of 216–255 breeding pairs would have been necessary to support published estimates of 55–65 turbine blade-strike fatalities per year. Although the vital rates forming the basis for these calculations may have changed since the data were collected, our approach should be useful for gaining a clearer understanding of how anthropogenic mortality affects the health of raptor populations, particularly those species with delayed maturity and naturally low reproductive rates.

W. Grainger Hunt, J. David Wiens, Peter R. Law, Mark R. Fuller, Teresa L. Hunt, Daniel E. Driscoll, Ronald E. Jackman

The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho; Predatory Bird Research Group, Long Marine Laboratory, University of California, Santa Cruz; Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, United States Geological Survey, Corvallis, Oregon; Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, Republic of South Africa; Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, United States Geological Survey, Boise, Idaho; Garcia and Associates, San Anselmo, California; American Eagle Research Institute, Apache Junction, Arizona

PLoS ONE 2017;12(2):e0172232

Download original document: “Quantifying the demographic cost of human-related mortality to a raptor population

This article is the work of the author(s) indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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