The dynamics of nitrogen movement in an Arctic salt marsh in response to goose herbivory: a parameterized model with alternate stable states


R.L. Jefferies (fax 1-416-978-5878, e-mail


  • 1LPBN is a parameterized simulation model of flows of nitrogen (N) in an ecosystem of cyanobacteria, grass and grazers, based on the N dynamics of a grazed Puccinellia lawn in an intertidal marsh on Hudson Bay. This system shows two alternate stable states: (a) lawns that either support a foraging population of lesser snow geese, or are not grazed by geese; and (b) exposed saline sediments that support little or no vegetation. The model represents the flow of N from cyanobacterial fixation, the major N input into the system, to the geese that migrate in autumn; those that do not return represent the major N output from the system. We have modelled N fixation, the transformations of N in the soil, plant growth, lawn regeneration, and goose grazing and grubbing.
  • 2The model simulates steady-state flows of N similar to those observed in the field at zero and at moderate goose density, and it also simulates the transition to the state of zero plant biomass, a consequence of increased grubbing at high goose density. The simulated steady-state flows are found to be more sensitive to changes in the parameters that describe N fixation and goose biology, than to similar changes in the parameters describing plant biology.
  • 3Because the model shows the alternate stable states and the transition between them, with values for the state variables that are consistent with field data, we conclude that N dynamics are crucial in determining the stability of the real salt marsh-goose system. The determining factor is the loss of the input of N from fixation when lawn area is reduced because the rate of goose grubbing exceeds that of plant re-establishment.