Infectious diseases can have dramatic impacts on animal population dynamics, but how they influence vital rates remains understudied. We took advantage of the appearance of an avian cholera epizootic in an arctic colony of common eiders Somateria mollissima to study variation in juvenile survival and selection on hatch characteristics in relation to this highly infectious disease. Avian cholera is one of the most important infectious diseases affecting wild birds and is thought to primarily affect adult survival. Here, we show that avian cholera was associated with a 90% decline in duckling survival, leading to almost zero recruitment. Before the cholera outbreak, there was significant stabilizing selection on hatching date and significant positive directional selection on hatching mass. During cholera outbreaks, selection on hatch characteristics was no longer significant. These results were based on a low sample of surviving ducklings in cholera years, but suggested that date and mass at hatching did no longer affect duckling survival in the presence of cholera. These effects of avian cholera on post-hatching survival were likely not only the consequence of the disease per se, but also a consequence of an increase in predation rates that followed the emergence of avian cholera. Our results emphasize the dramatic direct and indirect impacts that infectious disease can have on vital rates, and thus population dynamics.

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Journal Journal of Avian Biology
Descamps, S. (Sébastien), Forbes, M, Gilchrist, H.G, Love, O.P. (Oliver P.), & Bêty, J. (Joël). (2011). Avian cholera, post-hatching survival and selection on hatch characteristics in a long-lived bird, the common eider Somateria mollisima. Journal of Avian Biology, 42(1), 39–48. doi:10.1111/j.1600-048X.2010.05196.x