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Keywords:

  • Arctic Oscillation;
  • breeding cycle;
  • breeding phenology;
  • Canadian Arctic;
  • climate change;
  • climatic factors;
  • greater snow geese;
  • reproductive success

Abstract

Climate warming is pronounced in the Arctic and migratory birds are expected to be among the most affected species. We examined the effects of local and regional climatic variations on the breeding phenology and reproductive success of greater snow geese (Chen caerulescens atlantica), a migratory species nesting in the Canadian Arctic. We used a long-term dataset based on the monitoring of 5447 nests and the measurements of 19 234 goslings over 16 years (1989–2004) on Bylot Island. About 50% of variation in the reproductive phenology of individuals was explained by spring climatic factors. High mean temperatures and, to a lesser extent, low snow cover in spring were associated with an increase in nest density and early egg-laying and hatching dates. High temperature in spring and high early summer rainfall were positively related to nesting success. These effects may result from a reduction in egg predation rate when the density of nesting geese is high and when increased water availability allows females to stay close to their nest during incubation recesses. Summer brood loss and production of young at the end of the summer increased when values of the summer Arctic Oscillation (AO) index were either very positive (low temperatures) or very negative (high temperatures), indicating that these components of the breeding success were most influenced by the regional summer climate. Gosling mass and size near fledging were reduced in years with high spring temperatures. This effect is likely due to a reduced availability of high quality food in years with early spring, either due to food depletion resulting from high brood density or a mismatch between hatching date of goslings and the timing of the peak of plant quality. Our analysis suggests that climate warming should advance the reproductive phenology of geese, but that high spring temperatures and extreme values of the summer AO index may decrease their reproductive success up to fledging.