Unbiased estimates of survival based on individuals outfitted with radiotransmitters require meeting the assumptions that radios do not affect survival, and animals for which the radio signal is lost have the same survival probability as those for which fate is known. In most survival studies, researchers have made these assumptions without testing their validity. We tested these assumptions by comparing interannual recapture rates (and, by inference, survival) between radioed and unradioed adult female harlequin ducks (Histrionicus histrionicus), and for radioed females, between right-censored birds (i.e., those for which the radio signal was lost during the telemetry monitoring period) and birds with known fates. We found that recapture rates of birds equipped with implanted radiotransmitters (21.6 ?? 3.0%; x?? ?? SE) were similar to unradioed birds (21.7 ?? 8.6%), suggesting that radios did not affect survival. Recapture rates also were similar between right-censored (20.6 ?? 5.1%) and known-fate individuals (22.1 ?? 3.8%), suggesting that missing birds were not subject to differential mortality. We also determined that capture and handling resulted in short-term loss of body mass for both radioed and unradioed females and that this effect was more pronounced for radioed birds (the difference between groups was 15.4 ?? 7.1 g). However, no difference existed in body mass after recapture 1 year later. Our study suggests that implanted radios are an unbiased method for estimating survival of harlequin ducks and likely other species under similar circumstances.
Additional publication details
Testing assumptions for unbiased estimation of survival of radiomarked harlequin ducks