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Goose density influences predation on ground-nesting birds in Svalbard

Publisert 06.02.2018

The number of geese that spend the summer in Svalbard has increased in recent years. Geese nest on the ground, where their eggs and chicks are easy prey for arctic foxes. If goose colonies attract foxes, how might that affect the survival of other birds that nest on the tundra?

Photo: Finn Sletten
Photo: Finn Sletten

During the last decades, the number of geese in Svalbard has increased rapidly due to climate change in the overwintering areas and on the breeding grounds. This may lead to changes in predation pressure – and not just on the geese. Being a non-specialist predator, the Arctic fox might equally well raid the nests of less abundant ground-nesting tundra birds.

A new pilot study by COAT researchers, used two valleys contrasted by goose density, to explore whether ground-nesting birds of conservation concern experienced elevated nest predation in areas where geese were abundant. The study, involving artificial nests, actually demonstrated the opposite: the risk of nest predation for birds of conservation concern was reduced. This result contrast with other more complex arctic ecosystems.

The study further highlights the need for integrating experiments with artificial nests as part of the long-term monitoring efforts of the FRAM Centre Climate-ecological Observatory for Arctic Tundra (COAT) to effectively monitor the interactive effects of predators and goose abundance on birds of conservation concern.

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