Modeling sandhill crane population dynamics

Special Scientific Report - Wildlife 222




The impact of sport hunting on the Central Flyway population of sandhill cranes (Grus canadensis) has been a subject of controversy for several years. A recent study (Buller 1979) presented new and important information on sandhill crane population dynamics. The present report is intended to incorporate that and other information into a mathematical model for the purpose of assessing the long-range impact of hunting on the population of sandhill cranes.The model is a simple deterministic system that embodies density-dependent rates of survival and recruitment. The model employs four kinds of data: (1) spring population size of sandhill cranes, estimated from aerial surveys to be between 250,000 and 400,000 birds; (2) age composition in fall, estimated for 1974-76 to be 11.3% young; (3) annual harvest of cranes, estimated from a variety of sources to be about 5 to 7% of the spring population; and (4) age composition of harvested cranes, which was difficult to estimate but suggests that immatures were 2 to 4 times as vulnerable to hunting as adults.Because the true nature of sandhill crane population dynamics remains so poorly understood, it was necessary to try numerous (768 in all) combinations of survival and recruitment functions, and focus on the relatively few (37) that yielded population sizes and age structures comparable to those extant in the real population. Hunting was then applied to those simulated populations. In all combinations, hunting resulted in a lower asymptotic crane population, the decline ranging from 5 to 54%. The median decline was 22%, which suggests that a hunted sandhill crane population might be about three-fourths as large as it would be if left unhunted. Results apply to the aggregate of the three subspecies in the Central Flyway; individual subspecies or populations could be affected to a greater or lesser degree.

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Federal Government Series
Modeling sandhill crane population dynamics
Series title:
Special Scientific Report - Wildlife
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Year Published:
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Publisher location:
Washington, DC
Contributing office(s):
Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
10 pp.
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