Foraging activity by snow geese (Chen caerulescens) often creates large areas devoid of vegetation ("eat-outs") in moist-soil impoundments and coastal wetlands. Open-water habitats that result from eat-outs may be valuable foraging areas for other wetland-dependent birds (i.e., waterfowl and shorebirds). However, few studies have examined the effects of goose-induced habitat changes on invertebrates, an important food source for both waterfowl and shorebirds. We quantified changes in abundance and composition of benthic invertebrates in response to snow goose herbivory in moist-soil impoundments at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware, USA. We found invertebrate taxon richness and diversity and abundance of Chironomidae, Coleoptera, and Total Invertebrates to be higher in goose-excluded sites than in adjacent eat-outs. These effects were most pronounced during January, February, and early April. We also measured invertebrate abundance in shorebird exclosures in eat-outs but found few detectable effects of shorebird predation on invertebrates. Our study demonstrated that abundant snow geese may negatively influence availability of invertebrates for other nonbreeding waterbirds, suggesting that management actions to reduce local goose populations or deter feeding in impoundments may be warranted.
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Invertebrate response to snow goose herbivory on moist-soil vegetation