Heterogeneity in breeding productivity is driven largely by factors affecting nestlings and young fledglings in an imperiled migratory passerine

Darin J. McNeil, Amanda D. Rodewald, Viviana Ruiz-Gutierrez, Cameron J. Fiss, Jeffery L. Larkin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Identifying factors that drive variation in vital rates among populations is a prerequisite to understanding a species' population biology and, ultimately, to developing effective conservation strategies. This is especially true for imperiled species like the golden-winged warbler (Vermivora chrysoptera) that exhibit strong spatial heterogeneity in demography and responds variably to conservation interventions. Habitat management actions recommended for breeding grounds conservation include timber harvest, shrub shearing, and prescribed fire that maintain or create early successional woody communities. Herein, we assessed variation in the survival of nests [n = 145] and fledglings [n = 134] at 17 regenerating timber harvest sites within two isolated populations in Pennsylvania that differed in productivity and response to habitat management. Although the overall survival of nests and fledglings was higher in the eastern population than the central population, this was only true when the nest phases and fledgling phases were considered wholly. Indeed, survival rates of nestlings and recently fledged young (1–5 days post-fledging) were lower in the central population, whereas eggs and older fledglings (6–30 days post-fledging) survived at comparable rates in both populations. Fledglings in the central population were smaller (10% lower weight) and begged twice as much as those in the eastern population, suggesting food limitation may contribute to lower survival rates. Fledgling survival in the central population, but not the eastern, also was a function of habitat features (understory vegetation density [positive] and distance to mature forest [negative]) and individual factors (begging effort [negative]). Our findings illustrate how identifying how survival varies across specific life stages can elucidate potential underlying demographic drivers, such as food resources in this case. In this way, our work underscores the importance of studying and decomposing stage-specific demography in species of conservation concern.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11327
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • fledgling survival
  • habitat conservation
  • migratory songbirds
  • nest survival
  • productivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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