Reproductive ecology of tundra swans on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Management of tundra swans (Cygnus columbianus) is hampered by a lack of information on their nesting and brood-rearing ecology. We studied tundra swan nesting and brood-rearing ecology on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), Alaska, 1988-90. Nest success was 58% (n = 31) in 1988, 83% (n = 36) in 1989, 84% (n = 43) in 1990, and 76% (n = 110) for the 3 years. Nests were located predominately in marshes dominated by sheathed pondweed (Potamogeton vaginatus), mare's tail (Hippuris vulgaris), and Hoppner sedge (Carex subspathacea), or by pendent grass (Arctophila fulva), water sedge (C. aquatilis), and tall cotton grass (Eriophorum angustifolium). Nests were seldom located in upland or partially vegetated habitats and were near coastal lagoons or large coastal lakes. Incubating swans were easily disturbed by ground observers and left their nests when we were 500-2,000 m from the nest. Swans did not cover eggs with nest material prior to departure; thus, eggs were vulnerable to avain predation and thermal stress. Brood-foraging sites on the Kongakut Delta (n = 41) were frequently in aquatic-marsh (59%) and saline graminoid-shrub (29%) habitats, occasionally in graminoid-marsh (7%) and partially vegetated (5%) habitats, and absent from upland, graminoid-shrub-water sedge, and graminoid-shrub-cotton grass habitats. Brood-foraging sites on the Canning Delta (n = 35) were frequently in graminoid-marsh (46%), graminoid-shrub-water sedge (26%), and aquatic-marsh (23%) habitats, occasionally in graminoid-shrub-cotton grass (3%) and upland habitats (3%), and absent from saline graminoid-shrub and partially vegetated habitats. Young cygnets grazed in terrestrial habitats more frequently than older broods on the Kongakut (P = 0.003) and Canning (P = 0.053) deltas. Wetlands with sheathed pondweed were uncommon but preferred by broods (P = 0.001). Using field experiments, we evaluated effects of swan grazing and fertilization from feces on aboveground biomass production and plant-species composition. Fertilization from swan feces did not have an overall effect (P = 0.991) or interact with clipping (simulated grazing with hand shears) (P = 0.881) for any response variable investigated. Clipping increased total vegetational biomass the year of clipping (P = 0.001), decreased biomass the year after clipping (P = 0.001), and increased total shoot densities (P = 0.017). Shoot densities after clipping increased for Hoppner sedge (P = 0.010), did not change for tundra grass (Dupontia fischeri) (P = 0.296), and decreased for chickweed (Dupontia fischeri) (P = 0.006). Traditional use of foraging sites may enhance grazing areas by increasing plant production the year of grazing and densities of plant species that tolerate grazing. Protection of aquatic-marsh, graminoid-marsh, and saline graminoid-shrub habitats, particularly those supporting sheathed pondweed and traditionally used nesting areas, is important for maintaining current swan populations on ANWR.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Reproductive ecology of tundra swans on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.2307/3809691
Volume 58
Issue 4
Year Published 1994
Language English
Publisher Wiley
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center
Description 17 p.
First page 757
Last page 773
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Arctic National Wildlife Refuge