More grazing, more damage? Assessed yield loss on agricultural grassland relates nonlinearly to goose grazing pressure.
In recent decades, conflict between geese and agriculture has increased. Management practices to limit this conflict include concentrating geese in protected areas, derogation shooting or population reduction. To justify such management, we need to understand their effects on goose-related damages, which requires an understanding of how yield loss is influenced by goose abundance and species interactions. We combined data from monthly goose counts and GPS-tracked geese to estimate grazing pressures by barnacle, white-fronted and greylag geese on agricultural grassland in Fryslân, the Netherlands. Using linear mixed models, we related this to damages assessed by professional inspectors. Our results show a positive nonlinear relationship between yield loss and barnacle goose grazing pressure, where assessed damage increases with a decelerating rate as grazing pressure increases. For white-fronted geese, we find a negative relationship, while for greylag geese both positive and negative relationships occur. For each species, the relationship is influenced by the abundance of the other two. For barnacle geese, the relationship can be explained by selection of fields offering the best balance between food intake and energy expenditure, and by grass regrowth, with highest grazing pressures occurring over a longer time period. The results for the other species are likely due to spatial and temporal differences in foraging preferences compared to barnacle geese, where larger species avoid areas with highest damages. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that decreasing herbivore abundance may not translate directly to decreased yield loss, and management tools such as population reduction or derogation shooting should be used with care. Management aimed at concentrating geese in refuges could help to alleviate farmer-goose conflict, although further studies are required to determine if it would lead to damage reduction. We also find that not all species contribute equally to agricultural damage; care should be taken to ensure wildlife management targets the right species.