Earlier springs increase goose breeding propensity and nesting success at Arctic but not at temperate latitudes

Michiel P. Boom* (Corresponding author), Kees H.T. Schreven, Nelleke H. Buitendijk, Sander Moonen, Bart A. Nolet, Götz Eichhorn, Henk P. van der Jeugd, Thomas K. Lameris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Intermittent breeding is an important tactic in long-lived species that trade off survival and reproduction to maximize lifetime reproductive success. When breeding conditions are unfavourable, individuals are expected to skip reproduction to ensure their own survival. Breeding propensity (i.e. the probability for a mature female to breed in a given year) is an essential parameter in determining reproductive output and population dynamics, but is not often studied in birds because it is difficult to obtain unbiased estimates. Breeding conditions are especially variable at high latitudes, potentially resulting in a large effect on breeding propensity of Arctic-breeding migratory birds, such as geese. With a novel approach, we used GPS-tracking data to determine nest locations, breeding propensity and nesting success of barnacle geese, and studied how these varied with breeding latitude and timing of arrival on the breeding grounds relative to local onset of spring. Onset of spring at the breeding grounds was a better predictor of breeding propensity and nesting success than relative timing of arrival. At Arctic latitudes (>66° N), breeding propensity decreased from 0.89 (95% CI: 0.65–0.97) in early springs to 0.22 (95% CI: 0.06–0.55) in late springs, while at temperate latitudes, it varied between 0.75 (95% CI: 0.38–0.93) and 0.89 (95% CI: 0.41–0.99) regardless of spring phenology. Nesting success followed a similar pattern and was lower in later springs at Arctic latitudes, but not at temperate latitudes. In early springs, a larger proportion of geese started breeding despite arriving late relative to the onset of spring, possibly because the early spring enabled them to use local resources to fuel egg laying and incubation. While earlier springs due to climate warming are considered to have mostly negative repercussions on reproductive success through phenological mismatches, our results suggest that these effects may partly be offset by higher breeding propensity and nesting success.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Animal Ecology
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Oct 2023


  • Branta leucopsis
  • breeding success
  • climate change
  • migration
  • phenology
  • telemetry
  • tracking


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