Broods of geese spend time feeding according to availability and quality of food plants, subject to inherent foraging and digestive constraints. We studied behavioral patterns of broods of Emperor Geese (Chen canagica) on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska, and examined how feeding and alert behavior varied in relation to habitat and goose density. During 1994-1996, time spent feeding by Emperor Goose goslings and adult females was positively related to multispecies goose densities near observation blinds, and not to just Emperor Goose density. Similarly, body mass of Emperor Goose goslings was more strongly related (negatively) to multispecies goose densities than intraspecific densities. A grazing experiment in 1995 indicated that most above ground primary production by Carex subspathacea, a preferred food plant, was consumed by grazing geese. Those results demonstrate that interspecific competition for food occurred, with greatest support for goslings whose behavioral repertoire is limited primarily to feeding, digesting, and resting. Although the more abundant Cackling Canada Geese (Branta canadensis minima) differed from Emperor Geese in their preferred use of habitats during brooding rearing (Schmutz 2001), the two species occurred in equal abundance in habitats preferred by Emperor Goose broods. Thus, Cackling Canada Geese were a numerically significant competitor with Emperor Geese. Comparing these results to an earlier study, time spent feeding by goslings, adult females, and adult males were greater during 1993-1996 than during 1985-1986. During the interval between those studies, densities of Cackling Canada Geese increased two to three times whereas Emperor Goose numbers remained approximately stable, which implies that interspecific competition affected foraging behavior over a long time period. These density-dependent changes in foraging behavior and body mass indicate that interspecific competition affects nutrient acquisition and gosling growth, which has a demonstrated effect (Schmutz 1993) on juvenile survival of Emperor Geese. Management of Emperor Geese should consider interspecific relations and densities of all goose species occurring on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska.
Additional publication details
Variation in foraging behavior and body mass in broods of Emperor Geese (Chen canagica): Evidence for interspecific density dependence