A Demographic Model to Evaluate Population Declines in the Endangered Streaked Horned Lark

The Streaked Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is listed as endangered by the State of Washington, USA and by Canada under the Species at Risk Act and is also classified as a federal candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act in the USA. A substantial portion of Streaked Horned Lark habitat has been lost or degraded, and range contraction has occurred in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. We estimate the vital rates (fecundity, adult and juvenile survival) and population growth rate (l) for Streaked Horned Larks breeding in Washington, USA and conduct a Life-Stage Simulation Analysis (LSA) to evaluate which vital rate has the greatest influence on l. We simulated changes in the three vital rates to examine how much they would need to be adjusted either independently or in concert to achieve a stable Streaked Horned Lark population (l = 1). We also evaluated which fecundity component (the number of fledglings per egg laid or renesting interval) had the greatest impact on l. The estimate of population growth suggests that Streaked Horned Larks in Washington are declining rapidly (l = 0.62 ± 0.10) and that local breeding sites are not sustainable without immigration. The LSA results indicate that adult survival had the greatest influence on l, followed by juvenile survival and fecundity. However, increases in vital rates led to l = 1 only when adult survival was raised from 0.47 to 0.85, juvenile survival from 0.17 to 0.58, and fecundity from 0.91 to 3.09. Increases in breeding success and decreases in the renesting interval influenced l similarly; however, l did not reach 1 even when breeding success was raised to 100% or renesting intervals were reduced to 1 day. Only when all three vital rates were increased simultaneously did l approach 1 without requiring highly unrealistic increases in each vital rate. We conclude that conservation activities need to target all or multiple vital rates to be successful. The baseline data presented here and subsequent efforts to manage Streaked Horned Larks will provide valuable information for management of other declining Horned Lark subspecies and other grassland songbirds across North America.