The Svalbard-breeding population of pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus has increased during the last decades and is giving rise to agricultural conflicts along their migration route, as well as causing grazing impacts on tundra vegetation. An adaptive flyway management plan has been implemented, which will be based on predictive population models including environmental variables expected to affect goose population development, such as weather conditions on the breeding grounds. A local study in Svalbard showed that snow cover prior to egg laying is a crucial factor for the reproductive output of pink-footed geese, and MODIS satellite images provided a useful estimator of snow cover. In this study, we up-scaled the analysis to the population level by examining various measures of snow conditions and compared them with the overall breeding success of the population as indexed by the proportion of juveniles in the autumn population. As explanatory variables, we explored MODIS images, satellite-based radar measures of onset of snow melt, winter NAO index, and the May temperature sum and May thaw days. To test for the presence of density dependence, we included the number of adults in the population. For 2000–2011, MODIS-derived snow cover (available since 2000) was the strongest indicator of breeding conditions. For 1981–2011, winter NAO and May thaw days had equal weight. Interestingly, there appears to have been a phase shift from density-dependent to density-independent reproduction, which is consistent with a hypothesis of released breeding potential due to the recent advancement of spring in Svalbard.
Additional publication details
Snow conditions as an estimator of the breeding output in high-Arctic pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus