Information on the ecology of waterfowl breeding in the boreal forest is lacking, despite the boreal region's importance to continental waterfowl populations and to duck species that are currently declining, such as lesser scaup (Aythya affinis). We estimated breeding probability and breeding season survival of female lesser scaup on the Yukon Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, in 2005 and 2006. We captured and marked 93 lesser scaup with radiotransmitters during prelaying and nesting periods. Although all marked lesser scaup females were paired throughout prelaying and incubation periods, we estimated breeding probability over both years as 0.12 (SE = 0.05, n = 67) using telemetry. Proportion of lesser scaup females undergoing rapid follicle growth at capture in 2006 was 0.46 (SE = 0.11, n = 37), based on concentration of yolk precursors in blood plasma. By combining methods based on telemetry, yolk precursors, and postovulatory follicles, we estimated maximum breeding probability as 0.68 (SE = 0.08, n = 37) in 2006. Notably, breeding probability was positively related to female body mass. Survival of female lesser scaup during the nesting and brood-rearing periods was 0.92 (SE = 0.05) in 2005 and 0.86 (SE = 0.08) in 2006. Our results suggest that breeding probability is lower than expected for lesser scaup. In addition, the implicit assumption of continental duck-monitoring programs that all paired females attempt to breed should be reevaluated. Recruitment estimates based on annual breeding-pair surveys may overestimate productivity of scaup pairs in the boreal forest.
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Vol. 73 • No. 6