The impact of goose grazing on arctic and temperate wetlands

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens) Science Article 1


Geese are large, herbivorous birds that graze in huge flocks in ways that may have a considerable impact onvegetation. This is exemplified best in two subspecies of snow geese, the lesser and the greater, both of which have increaseddramatically in numbers in recent decades. In arctic coastal salt marshes, moderate goose grazing on Puccinellia phryganodesenhances plant production, but if it intensifies beyond a certain threshold it destroys the plant cover, leading to hypersalinity,soil erosion and little revegetation for long periods. In freshwater tundra wetlands dominated by Dupontia fisheri, Eriophorumscheuchzeri and brown mosses, grazing changes plant composition and reduces production of Eriophorum. Grazing may alsofavor mosses at the expense of grasses and sedges because mosses short-stop most of the nitrogen released from goose f ces.In temperate salt marshes, damage to the binding plant Spartina alterniflora from goose grubbing has been locally severe andhas led to the devegetation of large areas. In temperate brackish marshes, geese heavily grub the rhizomes of Scirpus pungens.Their grubbing depresses Scirpus production, alters plant species composition, and influences marsh dynamics by enlargingice-made depressions which are then colonized by other species. Grazing and grubbing in arctic and temperate freshwaterwetlands apparently leads to a low-level production equilibrium between geese and the plants, but not in salt marshes.

Gilles Gauthier, Jean-Francois Giroux, Line Rochefort, Acta Zoologica Sinica 52(Supplement): 108-111, 2006

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