The effects of harvest on waterfowl populations

Evan G. Cooch, Matthieu Guillemain, G. Scott Boomer, Jean-Dominique Lebreton, James D. Nichols


Change in the size of populations over space and time is, arguably, the motivation for much of pure and applied ecological research. The fundamental model for the dynamics of any population is straightforward: the net change in the abundance is the simple difference between the number of individuals entering the population and the number leaving the population, either or both of which may change in response to factors intrinsic and extrinsic to the population. While harvest of individuals from a population constitutes a clear extrinsic source of removal of individuals, the response of populations to harvest is frequently complex, reflecting an interaction of harvest with one or more population processes. Here we consider the role of these interactions, and factors influencing them, on the effective harvest management of waterfowl populations. We review historical ideas concerning harvest and discuss the relationship(s) between waterfowl life histories and the development and application of population models to inform harvest management. The influence of population structure (age, spatial) on derivation of optimal harvest strategies (with and without explicit consideration of various sources of uncertainty) is considered. In addition to population structure, we discuss how the optimal harvest strategy may be influenced by: 1) patterns of density-dependence in one or more vital rates, and 2) heterogeneity in vital rates among individuals within an age-sex-size class. Although derivation of the optimal harvest strategy for simple population models (with or without structure) is generally straightforward, there are several potential difficulties in application. In particular, uncertainty concerning the population structure at the time of harvest, and the ability to regulate the structure of the harvest itself, are significant complications. We therefore review the evidence of effects of harvest on waterfowl populations. Some of this evidence has focussed on correspondence of data with more phenomenological models and other evidence relates to specific mechanisms, including densitydependence and heterogeneity. An important part of this evidence is found in the evolution of model weights under various adaptive harvest management programmes of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for North American waterfowl.

  Overall, there is substantial uncertainty about system dynamics, about the impacts of potential management and conservation decisions on those dynamics, and how to optimise management decisions in the presence of such uncertainties. Such relationships are unlikely to be stationary over space or time, and selective harvest of some individuals can potentially alter life history allocation of resources over time – both of which will potentially influence optimal harvest strategies. These sources of variation and uncertainty argue for the use of adaptive approaches to waterfowl harvest management.

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