Survival rate from fledging to breeding, or juvenile survival, is an important source of variation in lifetime reproductive success in birds. Therefore, determining the relationship between juvenile survival and environmental factors is essential to understanding fitness consequences of reproduction in many populations. With increases in density of individuals and depletion of food resources, quality of most habitats deteriorates during the breeding season. Individuals respond by dispersing in search of food resources. Therefore, to understand the influence of environmental factors on juvenile survival, it is also necessary to know how natal dispersal influences survival of juveniles. We examined effects of various environmental factors and natal dispersal behavior on juvenile survival of endangered Snail Kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis) in central and southern Florida, using a generalized estimating equations (GEEs) approach and model selection criteria. Our results suggested yearly effects and an influence of age and monthly minimum hydrologic levels on juvenile Snail Kite survival. Yearly variation in juvenile survival has been reported by other studies, and other reproductive components of Snail Kites also exhibit such variation. Age differences in juvenile survival have also been seen in other species during the juvenile period. Our results demonstrate a positive relationship between water levels and juvenile survival. We suggest that this is not a direct linear relationship, such that higher water means higher juvenile survival. The juvenile period is concurrent with onset of the wet season in the ecosystem we studied, and rainfall increases as juveniles age. For management purposes, we believe that inferences suggesting increasing water levels during the fledging period will increase juvenile survival may have short-term benefits but lead to long-term declines in prey abundance and possibly wetland vegetation structure.
Additional publication details
Effects of natal departure and water level on survival of juvenile snail kites (Rostrhamus sociabilis) in Florida