The Pacific greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons) population has declined precipitously over the past 20 years. Loss of wetland habitat in California wintering areas has had a significant effect on the population, so recovery of the population may depend on innovative management of the few remaining wetlands. A computer simulation model, REFMOD, was applied to greater white-fronted geese in the Klamath Basin, northern California, to investigate the importance of food availability and hunting disturbance to migrating and wintering populations. Time spent flying and feeding was simulated during fall and early winter, and the resulting energy expenditure was compared with energy consumed to calculate an overall energy balance. This energy balance and the ease with which waterfowl acquired needed food affected emigration rate, and thus, the waterfowl population level was directly tied to availability and distribution of food. The model validly described distances moved by geese from their Tule Lake Refuge roosting site (core) to feeding sites within the surrounding Klamath Basin arena, and exhibited a capability to simulate observed time spent feeding. Based on 25 stochastic simulations, greater white-fronted goose population dynamics were validly simulated over the fall and early-winter (P>0.8). When food was removed from the Tule Lake Refuge, simulated geese had to fly farther (P<0.0001) to find food, hastening emigration and resulting in a decline (P<0.05) in use of the Klamath Basin by geese. Although barley is normally abundant in the basin and is extensively used by geese, simulated elimination of barley in the arena did not cause a reduction in goose numbers (P>0.05). The elimination did cause an increase in the distance traveled to feed (P<0.05), but the availability of other foods in the basin (e.g., potatoes) was evidently sufficient to support the population. The elimination of hunting in the Klamath Basin, and the related decrease in disturbance of feeding birds, had little effect (P>0.05) on the distance traveled to feed or on goose numbers. A 10-fold increase in disturbance hastened emigration and reduced population levels (P<0.0001) during the season by about 30%; a 100-fold increase in disturbance reduced population levels (P<0.0001) by 85%. When goose immigration was increased to simulate an average peak population of approximately 500 000 geese, population levels remained high throughout the fall, indicating the Klamath Basin can sustain a population much larger than currently exists. This suggests food availability and disturbance levels in the Klamath Basin are not responsible for observed population declines during the last 2 decades. REFMOD can easily be used to evaluate the effects of other scenarios related to hunting regimes and food distribution and availability.
Additional publication details
Application of a computer simulation model to migrating white-fronted geese in the Klamath Basin