Brent Geese Branta bernicla and Zostera; factors affecting the exploitation of a seasonally declining food resource

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Abstract

Brent Geese Branta bernicla wintering at Lindisfarne, northeastern England, fed almost exclusively on intertidal habitats. Their main food supply was two species of Eelgrass Zostera noltii and Zostera angustifolia. Although abundant when the birds arrived in September, this Zostera was rapidly depleted during the period October-December. Brent Goose food intake rate declined with the decreasing food supply, and the birds responded by extending the time that they spent feeding. When it was no longer possible to extend the time spent feeding (i.e. they were feeding for all of the time that the food supply was available to them), they moved away from the site. The geese fed extensively at night in order to achieve their daily feeding requirements, especially later in the season. Conversion of daily food intake to energetic intake suggested that there may have been an energetic trigger acting: the geese left the site when they were unable to satisfy their basic energy demand. No evidence was found for direct interference competition between Brent Geese and the other grazer in the system, Wigeon Anas penelope: the two species showed no spatial segregation in their feeding areas at the scale investigated nor any temporal avoidance of each other.

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