Arctic-nesting geese build large, insulated nests to protect developing embryos from cold ambient temperatures. Ross' Geese (Chen rossii) are about two-thirds the mass of Lesser Snow Geese (C. caerulescens caerulescens), have higher mass-specific metabolic rate, and maintain lower nest attentiveness, yet they hatch goslings with more functionally mature gizzards and more protein for their size than do Lesser Snow Geese. We compared nest size (a reflection of nest insulation) in four distinct habitats in a mixed breeding colony of Ross' Geese and Lesser Snow Geese at Karrak Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada. After adjusting measurements for nest-specific egg size and clutch size, we found that overall nest morphology differed between species and among habitats. Nest size increased progressively among heath, rock, mixed, and moss habitats. When nesting materials were not limiting, nests were smaller in habitats that provided cover from wind and precipitation than in habitats that did not provide cover. Ross' Geese constructed relatively larger, more insulated nests than did Lesser Snow Geese, which may hasten embryonic development, minimize energy expenditure during incubation, and minimize embryonic cooling during recesses. We suggest that relative differences in nest morphology reflect greater selection for Ross' Geese to improve nest insulation because of their smaller size (adults and embryos), higher mass-specific metabolic rate, and lower incubation constancy.
Additional publication details
Nest morphology and body size of Ross' Geese and Lesser Snow Geese