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Carrying Capacity of Wetland Habitats Used by Breeding Greater Snow Geese

Hélène Massé, Line Rochefort and Gilles Gauthier
The Journal of Wildlife Management
Vol. 65, No. 2 (Apr., 2001), pp. 271-281
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
DOI: 10.2307/3802906
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3802906
Page Count: 11
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Carrying Capacity of Wetland Habitats Used by Breeding Greater Snow Geese
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Abstract

Because geese can damage their arctic breeding habitats through overgrazing, there is debate about limiting the rapid growth of the greater snow goose (Chen caerulescens atlantica) population and setting a population goal. To answer these questions, we assessed the nutritional carrying capacity of freshwater wetland habitats for breeding greater snow geese at the Bylot Island colony, Nunavut, Canada. Specifically, we (1) mapped the different types of wetlands on the island; (2) estimated net aboveground primary production of these habitats; (3) compared total food availability with predicted total food requirements of the current population; and (4) validated our predictions of plant biomass consumed by comparing them to the intensity of goose grazing measured. Freshwater wetlands represented 173 ± 6 km2 or 11% of the total area of the south plain of Bylot Island. Streams and wet polygons were the most important habitats in terms of availability of suitable forage plants for geese. The average net above-ground primary production ranged from 21.0 ± 4.6 along lakes to 46.0 ± 9.8 $\text{g/m}^{2}$ in polygon channels. We estimated the total food supply available for geese in wetlands at 2,625 ± 461 tons in 1997 but only 1,247 ± 473 tons in 1996, a year of low plant production. We predicted a summer food requirement for goslings at 8.1 ± 0.6 kg/bird, for breeding adults at 7.9 ± 2.3, and for nonbreeding adults at 4.7 ± 1.5, and we predicted the total summer food requirements of the goose population at 1,201 ± 160 tons. The predicted amount of biomass removed (32 ± 7%) agreed well with the actual amount of biomass removed measured in mid-August (39 ± 11%) in 1997, but not in 1996 (67 ± 27% vs 26 ± 17%, respectively), possibly because the goose population was lower that year due to poor breeding success. In 1997, the goose population was at 46 ± 10% of the theoretical short-term carrying capacity (341,000 geese) of the wetlands of Bylot Island. We recommend keeping the goose population below this theoretical carrying capacity.

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