The reintroduction of threatened and endangered species is now a common method for reestablishing populations. Typically, a fundamental objective of reintroduction is to establish a self-sustaining population. Estimation of demographic parameters in reintroduced populations is critical, as these estimates serve multiple purposes. First, they support evaluation of progress toward the fundamental objective via construction of population viability analyses (PVAs) to predict metrics such as probability of persistence. Second, PVAs can be expanded to support evaluation of management actions, via management modeling. Third, the estimates themselves can support evaluation of the demographic performance of the reintroduced population, e.g., via comparison with wild populations. For each of these purposes, thorough treatment of uncertainties in the estimates is critical. Recently developed statistical methods - namely, hierarchical Bayesian implementations of state-space models - allow for effective integration of different types of uncertainty in estimation. We undertook a demographic estimation effort for a reintroduced population of endangered whooping cranes with the purpose of ultimately developing a Bayesian PVA for determining progress toward establishing a self-sustaining population, and for evaluating potential management actions via a Bayesian PVA-based management model. We evaluated individual and temporal variation in demographic parameters based upon a multi-state mark-recapture model. We found that survival was relatively high across time and varied little by sex. There was some indication that survival varied by release method. Survival was similar to that observed in the wild population. Although overall reproduction in this reintroduced population is poor, birds formed social pairs when relatively young, and once a bird was in a social pair, it had a nearly 50% chance of nesting the following breeding season. Also, once a bird had nested, it had a high probability of nesting again. These results are encouraging considering that survival and reproduction have been major challenges in past reintroductions of this species. The demographic estimates developed will support construction of a management model designed to facilitate exploration of management actions of interest, and will provide critical guidance in future planning for this reintroduction. An approach similar to what we describe could be usefully applied to many reintroduced populations.
Additional publication details
Demography of a reintroduced population: moving toward management models for an endangered species, the whooping crane