The population of emperor geese (Chen canagica) in western Alaska, USA, declined by >50% from the 1960s to the mid-1980s and has increased only slightly since. Rates of population increase among arctic geese are especially sensitive to changes in adult survival. Improving adult survival in seasons or geographic areas where survival is low may be the best means of increasing the emperor goose population. We monitored fates of 133 adult female emperor geese that were radiomarked with surgically implanted very high frequency or satellite radiotransmitters from 1999 to 2004 to assess whether monthly survival varied among years, seasons, or geographic areas. Because of uncertainties in determining whether a bird had died based on the radio signal, we analyzed 2 versions of the data. One version used conservative criteria to identify which birds had died based on radio signals and the other used more liberal criteria. In the conservative version of the data we detected 12 mortalities of emperor geese, whereas in the liberal interpretation there were 18 mortalities. In both versions, the models with greatest support indicated that monthly survival varied seasonally and that compared to most seasons estimated monthly survival was lower (?? -0.95-0.98) in May and August when emperor geese were mainly on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. From 44% to 47% of annual mortality occurred in those months. Estimated monthly survival was higher (?? = 0.98-1.0) from September through March when emperor geese were at autumn staging or wintering areas and in June and July when birds were nesting, rearing broods, or molting. Estimated annual survival was 0.85 (95% CI = 0.77-0.92) in the best-supported model when we used conservative criteria to identify mortalities and 0.79 (95%o CI = 0.74-0.85) under the best model using liberal mortality criteria. Lower survival in August and May corresponded to periods when subsistence harvest of emperor geese was likely highest. Managers may be able to most effectively influence population growth rate of emperor geese by reducing subsistence harvest on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in May and August.
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Seasonal survival of radiomarked emperor geese in western Alaska