Annual cycle of white-winged scoters (Melanitta fusca) in eastern north america: Migratory phenology, population delineation, and connectivity

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Understanding full annual cycle movements of long-distance migrants is essential for delineating populations, assessing connectivity, evaluating crossover effects between life stages, and informing management strategies for vulnerable or declining species. We used implanted satellite transmitters to track up to 2 years of annual cycle movements of 52 adult female White-winged Scoters (Melanitta fusca (Linnaeus, 1758)) captured in the eastern United States and Canada. We used these data to document annual cycle phenology; delineate migration routes; identify primary areas used during winter, stopover, breeding, and molt; and assess the strength of migratory connectivity and spatial population structure. Most White-winged Scoters wintered along the Atlantic coast from Nova Scotia to southern New England, with some on Lake Ontario. White-winged Scoters followed four migration routes to breeding areas from Quebec to the Northwest Territories. Principal postbreeding molting areas were in James Bay and the St. Lawrence River estuary. Migration phenology was synchronous regardless of winter or breeding origin. Cluster analyses delineated two primary breeding areas: one molting area and one wintering area. White-winged Scoters demonstrated overall weak to moderate connectivity among life stages, with molting to wintering connectivity the strongest. Thus, White-winged Scoters that winter in eastern North America appear to constitute a single continuous population.

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Canadian Journal of Zoology