Senescence and carryover effects of reproductive performance influence migration, condition, and breeding propensity in a small shorebird
Breeding propensity, the probability that an animal will attempt to breed each year, is perhaps the least understood demographic process influencing annual fecundity. Breeding propensity is ecologically complex, as associations among a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic factors may interact to affect an animal’s breeding decisions. Individuals that opt not to breed can be more difficult to detect than breeders, which can (1) lead to difficulty in estimation of breeding propensity, and (2) bias other demographic parameters. We studied the effects of sex, age, and population reproductive success on the survival and breeding propensity of a migratory shorebird, the piping plover (Charadrius melodus), nesting on the Missouri River. We used a robust design Barker model to estimate true survival and breeding propensity and found survival decreased as birds aged and did so more quickly for males than females. Monthly survival during the breeding season was lower than during migration or the nonbreeding season. Males were less likely to skip breeding (range: 1–17%) than females (range: 3–26%; βsex = −0.21, 95% CI: −0.38 to −0.21), and both sexes were less likely to return to the breeding grounds following a year of high reproductive success. Birds that returned in a year following relatively high population-wide reproductive output were in poorer condition than following a year with lower reproductive output. Younger adult birds and females were more likely to migrate from the breeding area earlier than older birds and males; however, all birds stayed on the breeding grounds longer when nest survival was low, presumably because of renesting attempts. Piping plovers used a variety of environmental and demographic cues to inform their reproduction, employing strategies that could maximize fitness on average. Our results support the “disposable soma” theory of aging and follow with predictions from life history theory, exhibiting the intimate connections among the core ecological concepts of senescence, carryover effects, and life history.