, Volume 73, Issue 1, pp 146–153

Variability in the chemistry of estuarine plants and its effect on feeding by Canada geese

  • R. Buchsbaum
  • I. Valiela
Original Papers

DOI: 10.1007/BF00376991

Cite this article as:
Buchsbaum, R. & Valiela, I. Oecologia (1987) 73: 146. doi:10.1007/BF00376991


We investigated the influence of interspecific and seasonal variations in plant chemistry on food choices by adult and gosling Canada Geese, Branta canadensis, on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The geese fed primarily on the abundant marsh grasses, Spartina spp., and rushes, Juncus gerardi, early in the growing season and switched to a greater dependence on eelgrass, Zostera marina, later. Forbs were generally avoided all season even when growing within patches of abundant species. The avoidance of forbs was related to their low abundance and their high concentrations of deterrent secondary metabolites. Differences in plant chemistry also determined the switch from marsh graminoids to Z. marina during the growing season. Marsh grasses were higher than Z. marina in nitrogen, particularly in the spring when the nitrogen requirement of geese is especially high. Z. marina was a better source of soluble carbohydrates and was the preferred food during the summer when the need to build up energy reserves may be more critical to geese than protein intake. Goslings, which require a diet higher in nitrogen than do adults, fed on marsh graminoids later into the growing season than the adults. The nitrogen content of the diets of goslings was significantly higher than that available to them in the plants, indicating that they selected for introgen. The diets of non-breeding adults in the spring and all geese in mid summer closely reflected the nutrient content of the plants. The diet of breeding adults was more similar to that of their goslings than to that of non-breeding adults. The effects of plant chemistry and the nutritional needs of geese on food choices were modified by the need to select a safe feeding site.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1987

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Buchsbaum
    • 1
  • I. Valiela
    • 1
  1. 1.Boston University Marine ProgramWoods HolesUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts Audubon SocietyGloucesterUSA