Land-use change increases climatic vulnerability of migratory birds: Insights from integrated population modelling

Qing Zhao, Todd W. Arnold, James H. Devries, David W. Howerter, Robert G. Clark, Mitch D. Weegman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Knowledge of land-use patterns that could affect animal population resiliency or vulnerability to environmental threats such as climate change is essential, yet the interactive effects of land use and climate on demography across space and time can be difficult to study. This is particularly true for migratory species, which rely on different landscapes throughout the year. Unlike most North American migratory waterfowl, populations of northern pintails (Anas acuta; hereafter pintails) have not recovered since the 1980s despite extended periods of abundant flooded wetlands (i.e. ponds). The mechanisms and drivers involved in this discrepancy remain poorly understood. While pintails are similar to other ducks in their dependence on ponds throughout their annual cycle, their extensive use of croplands for nesting differentiates them and makes them particularly vulnerable to changes in agricultural land use on prairie breeding grounds. Our intent was to quantify how changes in land use and ponds on breeding grounds have influenced pintail population dynamics by developing an integrated population model to analyse over five decades (1961–2014) of band-recovery, breeding population survey, land-use and pond count data. We focused especially on the interactive effects of pond counts and land use on pintail productivity, while accounting for density-dependent processes. Pintail populations responded more strongly to annual variation in productivity than survival. Productivity was positively correlated with pond count and negatively correlated with agricultural intensification. Further, a positive interaction between pond count and agricultural intensification was insufficient to overcome the strong negative effect of agricultural intensification on pintail productivity across nearly all pond counts. The interaction also indicated that pintail populations were more negatively impacted by the decrease in ponds associated with climate change under higher agricultural intensification. Our results indicate that pintail populations have become more vulnerable to climate change under intensified land use, which suggests that future conservation strategies must adapt to these altered relationships. The interactive effects of land use and climate on demography should be considered more frequently in animal ecology, and integrated population models provide an adaptable framework to understand vital rates and their drivers simultaneously.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1625-1637
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the many people who have banded pintails in the PPR, recovered and reported banded pintails, and conducted the waterfowl population survey, 1961-2014. The editor and two anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments. This research was jointly funded by Ducks Unlimited Canada's Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research, and Environment and Climate Change Canada. We thank our respective employers for their support of this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Authors. Journal of Animal Ecology © 2019 British Ecological Society


  • band-recovery data
  • climate change
  • habitat loss
  • integrative modelling
  • mortality
  • reproduction
  • wetland habitat


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