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Ecology. 2007 Feb;88(2):296-305.

Reconstructing the historic demography of an endangered seabird.

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Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720-3114, USA.


Reducing extinction risk for threatened species requires determining which demographic parameters are depressed and causing population declines. Museum collections may constitute a unique, underutilized resource for measuring demographic changes over long time periods using age-ratio analysis. We reconstruct the historic demography of a U.S. federally endangered seabird, the Marbled Murrelet (Brachyramphus marmoratus), from specimens collected approximately 100 years ago for comparison with predictions from comparative analyses and with results from contemporary field studies using both age-ratio analysis and conventional demographic estimators. Reproduction in the late 1800s and early 1900s matched predictions from comparative analysis, but was 8-9 times greater than contemporary estimates, whereas adult survival was unchanged. Historic reproductive rates would support stable populations, but contemporary levels should result in population declines. Contemporary demographic estimates derived from age-ratio analysis were similar to estimates from conventional estimators. Using museum specimens to reconstruct historic demography provides a unique approach to identify causes of decline and to set demographic benchmarks for recovery of endangered species that meet most assumptions of age-ratio analysis.

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