Growth responses of arctic graminoids following grazing by captive lesser snow geese
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The effects of grazing by captive goslings of the Lesser Snow Goose on coastal vegetation at La Pérouse By. Manitoba were investigated. Swards of Carex subspathacea, Festuca rubra and Calamagrostis deschampsioides were grazed once for different periods (0–180 min) and regrowth of vegetation determined, based on measurements of standing crop, net above-ground primary production (NAPP) and forage quality (leaf nitrogen content). The amounts of foliage removed from swards of Carex subspathacea increased with the length of the grazing period, but after 44 days of regrowth there were no significant differences in above-ground biomass between control and grazed plots. While the amount of foliage removed by goslings from swards of Festuca rubra increased with the length of the grazing period (except after 150 min of grazing), the increase in biomass following defoliation was similar among treatments. Goslings removed little biomass from swards of Calamagrostis deschampsioides, even when the opportunity for grazing was 180 min. No significant differences in standing-crop or NAPP between grazed and ungrazed plots were detected by the end of summer. Grazing had no significant effect on amounts of nitrogen in leaf tissue of all species, suggesting that faecal nitrogen was not rapidly incorporated into plant biomass within the growing season. Patterns of regrowth of these species are compared to that of Puccinellia phryganodes. An increase in goose numbers in recent years has led to birds foraging on less preferred species, such as Calamagrostis deschampsiodes and Festuca rubra. Their poor nutritional quality and a lack of a rapid growth response following defoliation may explain, in part, the decline in the weight of wild goslings recorded over the last decade.
Key wordsLesser snow geese Arctic coastal graminoids Herbivory Growth of forage species
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