Migration is a prominent aspect of the life history of many avian species, but the demographic consequences of variable migration strategies have only infrequently been investigated, and rarely when using modern technological and analytical methods for assessing survival, movement patterns, and long-term productivity in the context of life history theory. We monitored the fates of 50 satellite-implanted tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) over 4 years from five disparate breeding areas in Alaska, and used known-fate analyses to estimate monthly survival probability relative to migration distance, breeding area, migratory flyway, breeding status, and age. We specifically tested whether migratory birds face a trade-off, whereby long-distance migrants realize higher survival rates at the cost of lower productivity because of reduced time on breeding areas relative to birds that migrate shorter distances and spend more time on breeding areas.
Annual migration distances varied significantly among breeding areas (1020 to 12720 km), and were strongly negatively correlated with time spent on breeding areas (r = −0.986). Estimates of annual survival probability varied by wintering area (Pacific coast, Alaska Peninsula, and Eastern seaboard) and ranged from 0.79 (95%CI: 0.70–0.88) to 1.0, depending on criteria used to discern mortalities from radio failures. We did not find evidence for a linear relationship between migration distance and survival as swans from the breeding areas with the shortest and longest migration distances had the highest survival probabilities. Survival was lower in the first year post-marking than in subsequent years, but there was not support for seasonal differences in survival. Productivity varied among breeding populations and was generally inversely correlated to survival, but not migration distance or time spent on breeding areas.
Tundra swans conformed to a major tenet of life history theory, as populations with the highest survival generally had the lowest productivity. The lack of a uniform relationship between time spent on breeding areas and productivity, or time spent on wintering areas and survival, indicates that factors other than temporal investment dictate demographic outcomes in this species. The tremendous diversity of migration strategies we identify in Alaskan tundra swans, without clear impacts on survival, underscores the ability of this species to adapt to different environments and climatic regimes.
Keywords: Cygnus columbianus, Known fate, Life history, Metapopulation, Migration distance, Productivity, Satellite telemetry, Survival, Transmitter effects, Tundra swan