Population dynamics and harvest management of eastern mallards

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Abstract

Managing sustainable harvest of wildlife populations requires regular collection of demographic data and robust estimates of demographic parameters. Estimates can then be used to develop a harvest strategy to guide decision-making. Mallards (Anas platyrhynchos) are an important species in the Atlantic Flyway for many users and they exhibited exponential growth in the eastern United States between the 1970s and 1990s. Since then, estimates of mallard abundance have declined 16%, prompting the Atlantic Flyway Council and United States Fish and Wildlife Service to implement more restrictive hunting regulations and develop a new harvest strategy predicated on an updated population model. Our primary objective was to develop an integrated population model (IPM) for use in an eastern mallard harvest management strategy. We developed an IPM using annual estimates of breeding abundance, 2-season banding and recovery data, and hunter-harvest data from 1998 to 2018. When developing the model, we used novel model selection methods to test various forms of a sub-model for survival including estimating the degree of harvest additivity and any age-specific trends. The top survival sub-model included a negative annual trend on juvenile survival. The IPM posterior estimates for population abundance tracked closely with the observed estimates and estimates of mean annual population growth rate ranged from 0.88 to 1.08. Our population model provided increased precision in abundance estimates compared to survey methods for use in an updated harvest strategy. The IPM posterior estimates of survival rates were relatively stable for adult cohorts, and annual growth rate was positively correlated with the female age ratio, a measure of reproduction. Either or both of those demographic parameters, juvenile survival or reproduction, could be a target for management efforts to address the population decline. The resulting demographic parameters provided information on the equilibrium population size and can be used in an adaptive harvest strategy for mallards in eastern North America.

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Roberts, A. J., Hostetler, J. A., Stiller, J. C., Devers, P. K., & Link, W. A. (2023). Population dynamics and harvest management of eastern mallards. Journal of Wildlife Management, 87(5). https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.22405

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