Get access

Effects of agricultural change on abundance, fitness components and distribution of two arctic-nesting goose populations

Authors


A. D. Fox, tel: +45 89201505, fax +45 89201515, e-mail: tfo@dmu.dk

Abstract

Intensification of agriculture since the 1950s has enhanced the availability, competitive ability, crude protein content, digestibility and extended growing seasons of forage grasses. Spilled cereal grain also provides a rich food source in autumn and in winter. Long-distance migratory herbivorous geese have rapidly exploited these feeding opportunities and most species have shown expansions in range and population size in the last 50 years. Results of long-term studies are presented from two Arctic-breeding populations, the Svalbard pink-footed goose and the Greenland white-fronted goose (GWFG). GWFGs have shown major habitat shifts since the 1950s from winter use of plant storage organs in natural wetlands to feeding on intensively managed farmland. Declines in local density on, and abandonment of, unmodified traditional wintering habitat and increased reproductive success among those birds wintering on farmland suggest that density-dependent processes were not the cause of the shift in this winter-site-faithful population. Based on enhanced nutrient and energy intake rates, we argue that observed shifts in both species from traditionally used natural habitats to intensively managed farmland on spring staging and wintering areas have not necessarily been the result of habitat destruction. Increased food intake rates and potential demographic benefits resulting from shifts to highly profitable foraging opportunities on increasingly intensively managed farmland, more likely explain increases in goose numbers in these populations. The geographically exploratory behaviour of subdominant individuals enables the discovery and exploitation of new winter feeding opportunities and hence range expansion. Recent destruction of traditional habitats and declines in farming at northern latitudes present fresh challenges to the well being of both populations. More urgently, Canada geese colonizing breeding and moulting habitats of white-fronted geese in Greenland are further affecting their reproductive output.

Ancillary