The Beringia region of the Arctic contains 2 colonies of lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) breeding on Wrangel Island, Russia, and Banks Island, Canada, and wintering in North America. The Wrangel Island population is composed of 2 subpopulations from a sympatric breeding colony but separate wintering areas, whereas the Banks Island population shares a sympatric wintering area in California, USA, with one of the Wrangel Island subpopulations. The Wrangel Island colony represents the last major snow goose population in Russia and has fluctuated considerably since 1970, whereas the Banks Island population has more than doubled. The reasons for these changes are unclear, but hypotheses include independent population demographics (survival and recruitment) and immigration and emigration among breeding or wintering populations. These demographic and movement patterns have important ecological and management implications for understanding goose population structure, harvest of admixed populations, and gene flow among populations with separate breeding or wintering areas. From 1993 to 1996, we neckbanded molting birds at their breeding colonies and resighted birds on the wintering grounds. We used multistate mark-recapture models to evaluate apparent survival rates, resighting rates, winter fidelity, and potential exchange among these populations. We also compared the utility of face stain in Wrangel Island breeding geese as a predictor of their wintering area. Our results showed similar apparent survival rates between subpopulations of Wrangel Island snow geese and lower apparent survival, but higher emigration, for the Banks Island birds. Males had lower apparent survival than females, most likely due to differences in neckband loss. Transition between wintering areas was low (<3%), with equal movement between northern and southern wintering areas for Wrangel Island birds and little evidence of exchange between the Banks and northern Wrangel Island populations. Face staining was an unreliable indicator of wintering area. Our findings suggest that northern and southern Wrangel Island subpopulations should be considered a metapopulation in better understanding and managing Pacific Flyway lesser snow geese. Yet the absence of a strong population connection between Banks Island and Wrangel Island geese suggests that these breeding colonies can be managed as separate but overlapping populations. Additionally, winter population fidelity may be more important in lesser snow geese than in other species, and both breeding and wintering areas are important components of population management for sympatric wintering populations.
Additional publication details
Winter fidelity and apparent survival of lesser snow goose populations in the Pacific flyway