Long-distance migration of prey synchronizes demographic rates of top predators across broad spatial scales

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  • Reproductively and geographically isolated populations of predators may be synchronized by a phenomenon known as the Moran effect—specifically if they exhibit common responses to external processes, such as climate, density dependence (parasites, disease), or prey. Prey has the ability to synchronize predators if geographically isolated predator populations target the same prey species, or if the migration and range of the prey species occurs over a large enough scale to be available to multiple predator populations. The objective of our study was to investigate evidence for correlations of demographic rates between geographically isolated populations of piscivorous killer whales in the Northeast Pacific; using long-term mark-recapture datasets collected over the last 30+ yrs, we constructed a hierarchical occupancy model, linking models of survival and fecundity in a single framework. We found strong support for synchronized demographic rates in Southeast Alaska and Southern Resident killer whales, which are geographically and reproductively isolated. Despite their isolation, they experience extremely correlated dynamics—the correlation in fecundity rates between populations exceeds 0.9. The correlation in demographic rates across these populations of killer whales in different regions of the Northeast Pacific Ocean suggests a common environmental driver. Both killer whale populations are known to prey on Chinook salmon, which have a long-distance coastal migration larger than the habitat range of killer whales. Many of these Chinook salmon are also of the same origin (southern stocks), suggesting that these populations not only consume the same prey species but the same prey populations.
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  • Ward, E. J., Dahlheim, M. E., Waite, J. M., Emmons, C. K., Marshall, K. N., Chasco, B. E., & Balcomb III, K. C. (2016). Long‐distance migration of prey synchronizes demographic rates of top predators across broad spatial scales. Ecosphere, 7(2), e01276. doi:10.1002/ecs2.1276
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  • 7
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  • 2
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  • A portion of E. Ward and B.Chasco’s time was covered by the PSC Southern Fundgrant.
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