We investigated the effect of recent habitat changes in California's Central Valley on wintering Pacific greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons frontalis) by comparing roost-to-feed distances, distributions, population range sizes, and habitat use during 1987-1990 and 1998-2000. These habitat changes included wetland restoration and agricultural land enhancement due to the 1990 implementation of the Central Valley Joint Venture, increased land area used for rice (Oryza sativa) production, and the practice of flooding, rather than burning, rice straw residues for decomposition because of burning restrictions enacted in 1991. Using radiotelemetry, we tracked 192 female geese and recorded 4,516 locations. Geese traveled shorter distances between roosting and feeding sites during 1998-2000 (24.2 ?? 2.2 km) than during 1987-1990 (32.5 ?? 3.4 km); distance traveled tended to decline throughout winter during both decades and varied among watershed basins. Population range size was smaller during 1998-2000 (3,367 km2) than during 1987-1990 (5,145 km2), despite a 2.2-fold increase in the size of the Pacific Flyway population of white-fronted geese during the same time period. The population range size also tended to increase throughout winter during both decades. Feeding and roosting distributions of geese also differed between decades; geese shifted into basins that had the greatest increases in the amount of area in rice production (i.e., American Basin) and out of other basins (i.e., Delta Basin). The use of rice habitat for roosting (1987-1990: 40%, 1998-2000: 54%) and feeding (1987-1990: 57%, 1998-2000: 72%) increased between decades, whereas use of wetlands declined for roosting (1987-1990: 36%, 1998-2000: 31%) and feeding (1987-1990: 22%, 1998-2000: 12%). Within postharvested rice habitats, geese roosted and fed primarily in burned rice fields during 1987-1990 (roost: 43%, feed: 34%), whereas they used flooded rice fields during 1998-2000 (roost: 78%, feed: 64%). Our results suggest that white-fronted geese have altered their spatial use of California's Central Valley during the past decade in response to changing agricultural practices and the implementation of the Central Valley Joint Venture.
Additional publication details
Spatial use by wintering greater white-fronted geese relative to a decade of habitat change in California's Central Valley