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Keywords:

  • additive mortality;
  • capture–mark–recapture;
  • cause-specific mortality;
  • Chen caerulescens caerulescens ;
  • compensatory mortality;
  • harvest;
  • native invasive species;
  • population control

Summary

  1. Invasive and overabundant species are an increasing threat to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning world-wide. As such, large amounts of money are spent each year on attempts to control them. These efforts can, however, be thwarted if exploitation is compensated demographically or if populations simply become too numerous for management to elicit an effective and rapid functional response.
  2. We examined the influence of these mechanisms on cause-specific mortality in lesser snow geese using multistate capture–reencounter methods. The abundance and destructive foraging behaviours of snow geese have created a trophic cascade that reduces (sub-) Arctic plant, insect and avian biodiversity, bestowing them the status of ‘overabundant’.
  3. Historically, juvenile snow geese suffered from density-related degradation of their saltmarsh brood-rearing habitat. This allowed harvest mortality to be partially compensated by non-harvest mortality (process correlation between mortality sources: ρ = −0·47; 90% BCI: −0·72 to −0·04). Snow goose family groups eventually responded to their own degradation of habitat by dispersing to non-degraded areas. This relaxed the pressure of density dependence on juvenile birds, but without this mechanism for compensation, harvest began to have an additive effect on overall mortality (ρ = 0·60; 90% BCI: −0·06 to 0·81). In adults, harvest had an additive effect on overall mortality throughout the 42-year study (ρ = 0·24; 90% BCI: −0·59 to 0·67).
  4. With the aim of controlling overabundant snow geese, the Conservation Order amendment to the International Migratory Bird Treaty was implemented in February of 1999 to allow for harvest regulations that had not been allowed since the early 1900s (e.g. a spring harvest season, high or unlimited bag limits and use of electronic calls and unplugged shotguns). Although harvest mortality momentarily increased following these actions, the increasing abundance of snow geese has since induced a state of satiation in harvest that has driven harvest rates below the long-term average. More aggressive actions will thus be needed to halt the growth and spread of the devastating trophic cascade that snow geese have triggered.
  5. Our approach to investigating the impacts of population control efforts on cause-specific mortality will help guide more effective management of invasive and overabundant species world-wide.