Experimental harvest regulations reveal that water availability during spring, not harvest, affects change in a waterfowl population
Sedinger, Benjamin (2020), Experimental harvest regulations reveal that water availability during spring, not harvest, affects change in a waterfowl population, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.573n5tb3d
Population change is regulated by vital rates that are influenced by environmental conditions, demographic stochasticity and increasingly, anthropogenic effects. Habitat destruction and climate change threaten the future of many wildlife populations, and there are additional concerns regarding the effects of harvest rates on demographic components of harvested organisms. Further, many population managers strictly manage harvest of wild organisms to mediate population trends of these populations. The goal of our study was to decouple harvest and environmental variability in a closely monitored population of wild ducks in North America, where we experimentally regulated harvest independently of environmental variation over a period of four years. We used nine years of capture-mark-recapture data to estimate breeding population size during the spring for a population of wood ducks in Nevada. We then assessed the effect of one environmental variable and harvest pressure on annual changes in the breeding population size. Climatic conditions influencing water availability were strongly positively related to population growth rates of wood ducks in our study system. In contrast, harvest regulations and harvest rates did not affect population growth rates. We suggest efforts to conserve waterfowl should focus on the effects of habitat loss in breeding areas and climate change, which will likely affect precipitation regimes in the future. We demonstrate the utility of capture-mark-recapture methods to estimate abundance of species which are difficult to survey and test the impacts of anthropogenic harvest and climate on populations. Finally, our results continue to add to the importance of experimentation in applied conservation biology, where we believe that continued experiments on non-threatened species will be critically important as researchers attempt to understand how to quantify and mitigate direct anthropogenic impacts in a changing world.