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Vegetation growth and a seasonal habitat shift of the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis)

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Summary

Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) wintering on the island of Schiermonnikoog in the Netherlands abruptly switch all their foraging activities from a dairy pasture (a ‘polder’) to an adjacent salt-marsh during the early spring. We present evidence to show that this shift is related to changes in the quality of the diet available in these different habitats. Barnacle geese shift from polder to salt-marsh at the precise time that these are equal in dietary protein availability, which occurs as the food plants on the salt-marsh undergo a sudden spring growth. The dairy pasture undergoes its own spring growth shortly afterwards, and more dietary protein is available there for the rest of the year. We suggest that the salt-marsh is a more preferred habitat, but that low dietary protein during the winter prevents its use by barnacle geese. We hypothesize that the salt-marsh may be more preferred due to a lower level of disturbance which permits geese to graze more slowly, improving the utilization of food plants.

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Prins, H.H.T., Ydenberg, R.C. Vegetation growth and a seasonal habitat shift of the barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis). Oecologia 66, 122–125 (1985). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00378563

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00378563

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