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Studies of the effects of transmitters on wildlife often focus on survival. However, sublethal behavioral changes resulting from radio-marking have the potential to affect inferences from telemetry data and may vary based on individual and environmental characteristics. We used a long-term, multi-species tracking study of sea ducks to assess behavioral patterns at multiple temporal scales following implantation of intracoelomic satellite transmitters. We applied state-space models to assess short-term behavioral patterns in 476 individuals with implanted satellite transmitters, as well as comparing breeding site attendance and migratory phenology across multiple years after capture. In the short term, our results suggest an increase in dispersive behavior immediately following capture and transmitter implantation; however, behavior returned to seasonally average patterns within ~5 days after release. Over multiple years, we found that breeding site attendance by both males and females was depressed during the first breeding season after radio-marking relative to subsequent years, with larger relative decreases in breeding site attendance among males than females. We also found that spring and breeding migrations occurred later in the first year after radio-marking than in subsequent years. Across all behavioral effects, the severity of behavioral change often varied by species, sex, age, and capture season. We conclude that, although individuals appear to adjust relatively quickly (i.e. within 1 week) to implanted satellite transmitters, changes in breeding phenology may occur over the longer term and should be considered when analyzing and reporting telemetry data.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.