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ESR 41:349-360 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01026

Use of genetic mark-recapture to estimate breeding site fidelity and philopatry in a threatened sea duck population, Alaska-breeding Steller’s eiders

David E. Safine1,*, Mark S. Lindberg2, Kate H. Martin3, Sandra L. Talbot4, Ted R. Swem3, John M. Pearce4, Neesha C. Stellrecht3, George K. Sage4, Ann E. Riddle5, Krystal Fales4, Tuula E. Hollmén5,6

1Division of Migratory Bird Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Anchorage, AK 99503, USA
2Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
3Fairbanks Fish and Wildlife Field Office, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Fairbanks, AK 99701, USA
4Alaska Science Center, US Geological Survey, Anchorage, AK 99508, USA
5Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, AK 99664, USA
6College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: The Steller’s eider Polysticta stelleri is a sea duck that breeds in Arctic tundra regions of Russia and Alaska (USA). The Alaska-breeding population is listed as ‘threatened’ under the US Endangered Species Act because of a perceived contraction of the breeding range in North America. Understanding demography of the listed population is critical for evaluating measures that can lead to increased abundance and thus, long-term viability. Specifically, estimates of return rates to breeding areas by adult females and natal areas by juvenile females are needed for planning effective recovery actions. We used a suite of polymorphic loci to genotype individuals and generated genetic profiles of nesting females and female offspring from nest materials collected between 1995 and 2016 in a ~170 km2 study area near Utqiaġvik, Alaska. We analyzed capture histories of genetically identified individuals to estimate breeding site fidelity, temporary emigration, and philopatry. From a sample of 365 nests, we found that breeding site fidelity of adult females was high (0.91 ± 0.07 SE), and temporary emigration was also high (0.77 ± 0.06) and annually variable (range 0.34-0.97). From egg shell remains of 124 hatched females, we observed 9 recaptures as nesting adults, suggesting that philopatry was also high (range 0.6-1.0). Given the relatively high rates of adult female breeding site fidelity and female philopatry that we estimated, management actions that reduce mortality of adult females and increase annual productivity are likely to help maintain the population of a few hundred breeding Steller’s eiders on the Arctic Coastal Plain of Alaska.


KEY WORDS: Polysticta stelleri · Temporary and permanent emigration · Apparent survival · Capture probability · Nest detection


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Cite this article as: Safine DE, Lindberg MS, Martin KH, Talbot SL and others (2020) Use of genetic mark-recapture to estimate breeding site fidelity and philopatry in a threatened sea duck population, Alaska-breeding Steller’s eiders. Endang Species Res 41:349-360. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr01026

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