For birds maintaining long-term monogamous relationships, mate loss might be expected to reduce fitness, either through reduced survival or reduced future reproductive investment. We used harvest of male brant during regular sport hunting seasons as an experimental removal to examine effects of mate loss on fitness of female black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans; hereafter brant). We used the Barker model in program MARK to examine effects of mate loss on annual survival, reporting rate, and permanent emigration. Survival rates decreased from 0.847 ± 0.004 for females who did not lose their mates to 0.690 ± 0.072 for birds who lost mates. Seber ring reporting rate for females that lost their mates were 2 times higher than those that did not lose mates, 0.12 ± 0.086 and 0.06 ± 0.006, respectively, indicating that mate loss increased vulnerability to harvest and possibly other forms of predation. We found little support for effects of mate loss on fidelity to breeding site and consequently on breeding. Our results indicate substantial fitness costs to females associated with mate loss, but that females who survived and were able to form new pair bonds may have been higher quality than the average female in the population.
Additional publication details
Mate loss affects survival but not breeding in black brant geese