Does intensive goose grazing affect breeding waders?

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Increasing goose population sizes gives rise to conflicts with human socioeconomic interests and in some circumstances conservation interests. Grazing by high abundances of geese in grasslands is postulated to lead to a very short and homogeneous sward height negatively affecting cover for breeding meadow birds and impacting survival of nests and chicks. We studied the effects of spring grazing barnacle geese Branta leucopsis and brent geese Branta bernicla on occupancy of extensively farmed freshwater grasslands by nesting and brood-rearing waders on the island Mandø in the Danish Wadden Sea. We hypothesized that goose grazing would lead to a shorter grass sward, negatively affecting the field occupancy by territorial/nesting and chickrearing waders, particularly species preferring taller vegetation. Goose grazing led to a short grass sward (<5 cm height) over most of the island. To achieve a variation in sward height, we kept geese off certain fields using laser light. We analyzed effects of field size, sward height, mosaic structure of the vegetation, proximity to shrub as cover for potential predators, and elevation above ground water level as a measure of wetness on field occupancy by nesting and chick-rearing waders. The analysis indicated that the most important factor explaining field occupancy by nesting redshank Tringa totanus, black-tailed godwit Limosa limosa, oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus and lapwing Vanellus vanellus as well as by chick-rearing black-tailed godwit and lapwing was short vegetation height. Distance to shrub cover and elevation were less important. Hence, despite very intensive goose grazing, we could not detect any negative effect on the field occupancy by nesting nor chick-rearing waders, including redshank and black-tailed godwit, which are known to favor longer vegetation to conceal their nests and hide their chicks. Possible negative effects may be buffered by mosaic structures in fields and proximity to taller vegetation along fences and ditches.
TidsskriftEcology and Evolution
Sider (fra-til)14512-14522
Antal sider11
StatusUdgivet - dec. 2019

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