Hyperabundant herbivores limit habitat availability and influence nest site selection of Arctic-breeding birds.

Published online
18 Dec 2019
Content type
Journal article
Journal title
Journal of Applied Ecology

Flemming, S. A. & Nol, E. & Kennedy, L. V. & Smith, P. A.
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Understanding an organism's habitat selection and behavioural flexibility in the face of environmental change can help managers plan for future conservation of that species. Hyperabundant tundra-nesting geese are influencing Arctic environments through their foraging activities. Goose-induced habitat change in Arctic wetlands may influence the availability of habitat for numerous shorebird species that breed sympatrically with geese. We explore whether goose-induced habitat alteration affects shorebird breeding density and nest site selection. Using habitat data collected at sites with High, Moderate and Low goose influence, and samples collected during two periods separated by 11 years, we document the habitat characteristics influenced by geese. We describe the habitat characteristics preferred by shorebirds and relate their availability to goose influence and shorebird density. Finally, we examine whether shorebird nest site selection has changed over time and whether shorebirds select nest sites differently in habitat influenced by geese. We document spatial and temporal changes in sedge meadow habitat and lateral concealment relating to goose influence. The availability of sedge meadow habitat and the degree of lateral concealment declined with increasing goose influence, and also declined at two sites over the 11 years of the study. Densities of both cover- and open-nesting shorebirds were highest where goose influence was lowest. At sites with Low goose influence, cover-nesting shorebirds selected nest sites with more sedge meadow and concealment than at sites with Moderate and High goose influence, presumably because these high-quality sites were more available. Synthesis and applications. Intensive foraging by a colony of hyperabundant geese is limiting the availability of preferred nesting habitat and densities of sympatric-nesting shorebirds. Where goose-induced habitat alteration is pronounced shorebird species that select concealed nest sites are nesting in areas with lower concealment and less sedge meadow. Studies examining the degree to which these effects scale up to impact the population sizes of declining shorebirds should be considered a future research priority. Moreover, management strategies for geese should incorporate the habitat needs of sympatric species and reinvigorate efforts for goose population reduction in order to achieve the population targets articulated by management agencies.

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