Population growth and fitness are typically most sensitive to adult survival in long-lived species, but variation in recruitment often explains most of the variation in fitness, as past selection has canalized adult survival. Estimating juvenile survival until age of independence has proven challenging, because marking individuals in this age class may directly affect survival. For Greater Sage-grouse, uniquely marking juveniles in the first days of life likely results in adverse effects to survival, detection of juveniles is not perfect, and females adopt juveniles from other parents. These challenges are encountered by researchers studying avian and mammalian species with similar life histories, yet methods do not exist that explicitly estimate all these components of the recruitment process. We propose a novel data collection method and demographic model to simultaneously estimate rates of detection, survival, and adoption of juvenile individuals. Using multiple cameras to film the beginning of juvenile activity on specific days, we obtained counts of juveniles associated with marked females. Increases of juveniles to broods provided information that enabled us to estimate rates of adoption that can be applied at the population level. Losses from broods informed apparent survival. These losses could be attributed to death, or they could be chicks that were adopted by other females. We found evidence that apparent survival of juveniles was influenced by localized weather patterns when chicks were young. Similarly, we found that young chicks were more susceptible to the adverse effect of attending females being flushed by an observer. Both of these patterns diminished quickly as chicks aged. We provide the first-ever estimates of interval-specific adoption rates. Our results suggest that researchers should be cautious when designing studies to estimate juvenile survival. More importantly, they provide insight into adoption, a behavior that has been known to exist for decades.
- brood amalgamation