Modelling behavioural and fitness consequences of disturbance for geese along their spring flyway.
For migratory birds the implications of environmental change may be difficult to predict because they use multiple sites during their annual cycle. Moreover, the migrants' use of these sites may be interdependent. Along the flyway of the Svalbard pink-footed goose Anser brachyrhynchus population, Norwegian farmers use organized scaring to minimize goose use of their grasslands in spring. We assessed the consequences of this practice for regional site use of pink-footed geese along their spring migration route. We used dynamic programming to find the sequence of migratory decisions that maximizes the fitness of female geese during spring migration, assuming scaring impinges on both food-intake rates and predation risk. The parameterization of the model was based on data gathered from individually marked pink-footed geese between 1991 and 2003. The effect of scaring in terms of fitness and site use was most noticeable regarding food-intake rate. Scaring resulted in a redistribution of geese along the flyway. Furthermore, the outcomes of the modelling exercises were highly dependent on whether or not the geese were omniscient or naive: at moderate scaring levels naive geese were predicted to succumb. On a qualitative basis there was good correspondence between the predictions from the model and the empirical evidence gathered to date. Synthesis and applications. Besides highlighting the importance of learning and changing behaviour in an adaptive fashion, our modelling exercise indicated the potential vulnerability of the geese to abrupt environmental change. In addition, the exercise emphasized the interdependence of site use along the migratory flyway. The model supports the necessity for an integrated flyway management approach. In Norway, discussion is ongoing about the future management of the spring conflict between farming interests and geese. Farmers in north and mid-Norway have announced that they will expand the scaring campaign if a long-term solution, including a compensation scheme, is not forthcoming. If scaring on such a large scale is implemented abruptly, it may have severe consequences for the population: management of both the scaring intensity and its geographical extent is urgently required.