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1 September 2008 Large-scale change in the sex ratio of a declining eider Somateria mollissima population
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The breeding potential of a monogamous animal population should be maximal during equal operational sex ratio, and empirical evidence suggests that the population-wide sex ratio may be linked to population density. We studied the sex ratio of eiders Somateria mollissima migrating into the Gulf of Finland, the Baltic Sea, in nine years during 1979–2005 (1979–1980, 1982–1983 and 2001–2005), and the sex ratio of birds collected by Danish hunters during 1982–2004. In two decades, the sex ratio during peak migration has reversed from female bias to male bias, and hunting statistics have shown a significantly increasing adult male bias. Also the proportion of juvenile males has shown a significant increase (Danish hunting statistics 1982–2004), which indicates either that the primary sex ratio of ducklings is exceedingly male biased, or that the mortality of female ducklings has increased. This shift in sex ratio is paralleled by a dramatic decrease in the Baltic eider population which started in the early 1990s. The proportion of juveniles in the hunting bag, an indicator of breeding success in the Baltic, significantly decreased during our study period. The sex ratio of migrating eiders showed seasonal fluctuations, the pattern of which has changed during the study period. Particularly the proportion of late-migrating females has decreased dramatically since the early 1980s, suggesting a declining influx of subadult females. Both the increased male bias and the decreased breeding success are likely to be linked with the population decline. A primary contributor to the shift in sex ratio and the declining trend in breeding success and population size is possibly differential mortality of the sexes during breeding, as the mortality of breeding females has increased sharply in the western Gulf of Finland, mainly due to predation by white-tailed sea eagles Haliaeetus albicilla and American minks Mustela vison, the former of which has recently increased in numbers. It is unlikely that differential winter mortality of the sexes can explain our results, as the wintering area of eiders from the Gulf of Finland has remained the same, and the Danish hunting bag reflects the existing sex ratio. Our study highlights the need for future empirical and theoretical work on the relationship between population sex ratio and population density.

Aleksi Lehikoinen, Thomas Kjær Christensen, Markus Öst, Mikael Kilpi, Pertti Saurola, and Aarne Vattulainen "Large-scale change in the sex ratio of a declining eider Somateria mollissima population," Wildlife Biology 14(3), 288-301, (1 September 2008).[288:LCITSR]2.0.CO;2
Received: 19 December 2006; Accepted: 1 August 2007; Published: 1 September 2008

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