Growth of black brant and lesser snow goose goslings in northern Alaska

Journal of Wildlife Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Gosling body mass can affect first year survival, recruitment, adult body size, and future fecundity of geese, and can serve as an indicator of forage availability and quality on brood-rearing areas. From 2012–2014 we measured body mass of 76 black brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) and 268 lesser snow goose (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) goslings of known age on the Colville River Delta (CRD) of northern Alaska to determine if there was evidence of density-dependent declines in gosling growth following recent population increases of those species and sympatric greater white-fronted geese (Anser albifrons frontalis). We contrasted contemporary body mass of brant goslings and forage biomass in brood-rearing habitats that were shared by all species, with measures obtained on, and near the CRD in the 1990s, prior to the establishment of snow goose nesting colonies in the area. Body mass of brant goslings recaptured between 25 and 32 days of age had not changed over the past 2 decades, despite an influx of snow geese, and increases in populations of brant and white-fronted geese. At 30 days of age, body mass of brant goslings on the CRD was 100–400 g heavier than for brant goslings of the same age on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta (YKD), Alaska. Contemporary biomass of grazed Carex subspathacea on CRD brood-rearing areas was comparable to the 1990s and was 2–4 times greater than for the same plant community on the YKD. Historical data on growth of snow goose goslings were not available for the CRD. However, average body mass of 34-day-old snow goose goslings was >230 g heavier than for conspecifics of the same age in the Hudson Bay region. We conclude that the establishment of nesting snow geese on the CRD has not negatively affected brant gosling growth, and that recent population increases of all species have likely not been constrained by forage availability on brood-rearing areas. Barring demographic changes elsewhere in their annual cycles, we predict that goose populations will continue to increase in northern Alaska. However, snow geese are increasing more rapidly than brant in the region. Because the black brant population has periodically been below conservation objectives, the effects of the increasing number of snow geese on forage biomass and growth of brant goslings in northern Alaska should be monitored.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Growth of black brant and lesser snow goose goslings in northern Alaska
Series title Journal of Wildlife Management
DOI 10.1002/jwmg.21246
Volume 81
Issue 5
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher The Wildlife Society
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description 12 p.
First page 846
Last page 857
Country United States
State Alaska