The ratio of hatch-year (HY) to after-hatch-year (AHY) individuals (HY:AHY ratio) can be a valuable metric for estimating avian productivity because it does not require monitoring individual breeding sites and can often be estimated across large geographic and temporal scales. However, rigorous estimation of age ratios requires that both young and adult age classes are sampled in an unbiased manner, an assumption that is rarely tested. We estimated HY:AHY ratios for Marbled Murrelets (Brachyramphus marmoratus), a threatened seabird, using at-sea surveys and captures to assess whether age-specific differences in behavior and distribution result in biased productivity estimates in central California. AHY and HY Marbled Murrelets were distributed similarly at sea, and HY individuals did not congregate in nursery areas. Moreover, dispersal by radiomarked AHY Marbled Murrelets out of our survey area occurred at a low rate, and AHY densities were constant over the survey period, which suggests that AHY immigration and emigration did not significantly bias productivity estimates. HY density increased linearly over the survey period as expected if little dispersal occurred, which suggests that productivity estimates were not significantly biased by HY dispersal. Finally, simulation analyses indicated that annual variation in the timing of breeding resulted in only small biases in HY:AHY ratios. HY:AHY ratios were corrected for the proportion of AHY Marbled Murrelets that were incubating and the proportion of HY individuals that had not fledged at the time of sampling. Mean corrected HY:AHY ratios were low on the basis of both at-sea surveys conducted from 1996 to 2003 (0.032; SE = 0.011) and captures conducted from 1999 to 2003 (0.037; SE = 0.028), implying that productivity was poor in central California. Estimating age ratios may be an effective way of monitoring changes in reproductive success and identifying environmental factors that affect Marbled Murrelet populations, though tests of assumptions are needed in other regions.
Le Rapport des Âges comme Estimateur de la Productivité: Tester les Hypothèses avec un Oiseau de Mer Menacé, Brachyramphus marmoratus