Do geese fully develop brood patches? A histological analysis of lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) and Ross’s geese (C. rossii)

  • Jón Einar Jónsson
  • Alan D. Afton
  • Dominique G. Homberger
  • William G. Henk
  • Ray T. Alisauskas
Original Paper


Most birds develop brood patches before incubation; epidermis and dermis in the brood patch region thicken, and the dermal connective tissue becomes increasingly vascularized and infiltrated by leukocytes. However, current dogma states that waterfowl incubate without modifications of skin within the brood patch region. The incubation periods of lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens; hereafter called snow geese) and Ross’s geese (C. rossii) are 2–6 days shorter than those of other goose species; only females incubate. Thus, we hypothesized that such short incubation periods would require fully developed brood patches for sufficient heat transfer from incubating parents to eggs. We tested this hypothesis by analyzing the skin histology of abdominal regions of snow and Ross’s geese collected at Karrak Lake, Nunavut, Canada. For female snow geese, we found that epidermis and dermis had thickened and vascularization of dermis was 14 times greater, on average, than that observed in males (n=5 pairs). Our results for Ross’s geese (n=5 pairs) were more variable, wherein only one of five female Ross’s geese fully developed a brood patch. Our results are consistent with three hypotheses about brood patch development and its relationship with different energetic cost–benefit relationships, resulting from differences in embryonic development and body size.


Body size Brood patch Geese Histology Incubation 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jón Einar Jónsson
    • 1
    • 6
  • Alan D. Afton
    • 2
  • Dominique G. Homberger
    • 3
  • William G. Henk
    • 4
  • Ray T. Alisauskas
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Renewable Natural ResourcesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  2. 2.United States Geological Survey, Louisiana Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research UnitLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Comparative Biomedical Sciences, School of Veterinary MedicineLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  5. 5.Canadian Wildlife ServiceSaskatoonCanada
  6. 6.ReykjavíkIceland

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