Finding food in a highly seasonal landscape: where and how pink footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus forage during the Arctic spring

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Abstract

Food accessibility and availability in the highly seasonal Arctic landscape can be restricted by snow cover and frozen substrate, particularly in early spring. Therefore, to determine how a long distance migratory herbivore forages in such a landscape, pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus at an early spring feeding area in Svalbard were studied. Birds arrived in mid May when extensive snow cover restricted habitat availability. Geese fed in all habitats, but the highest densities occurred in wet tundra. However, prolonged snow lie restricted access to wet areas compared to dry and mesic habitats. Above ground biomass was very low in all habitats; yet sizeable amounts occurred below ground. In line with this, the majority of birds (86%) grubbed for below ground plant storage organs such as stem bases and rhizomes. Wet habitat contained greater quantities of edible and lower amounts of inedible below ground material (ratio 1:0.3) than dry (ratio 1:9) or mesic (ratio 1:4) areas. Although foraging in wet habitat prevented geese from encountering high proportions of inedible plant parts, forage species characteristic of this habitat, such as Dupontia grasses and the rush Eriophorum scheuchzeri, were more difficult to extract than food plants typical of drier habitats such as the forb Bistorta vivipara. Hence, we suggest that wet areas are preferred by pink-footed geese, but the prolonged snow lie there made it necessary to use less preferred but much more abundant drier habitats, which experienced earlier snowmelt and indeed accommodated more than half of all goose foraging recordings.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)415-422
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Volume43
Issue number5
Early online date2 Jul 2012
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 5 Sep 2012

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