Keeping up with early springs: rapid range expansion in an avian herbivore incurs a mismatch between reproductive timing and food supply

H.P. Van der Jeugd, Goetz Eichhorn, K.E. Litvin, J. Stahl, K. Larsson, A.J. van der Graaf, R.H. Drent

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Within three decades, the barnacle goose population wintering on the European mainland has dramatically increased in numbers and extended its breeding range. The expansion has occurred both within the Arctic as well as by the colonization of temperate areas. Studies of performance of individuals in expanding populations provide information on how well species can adapt to novel environments and global warming. We, therefore, studied the availability of high quality food as well as timing of reproduction, wing moult, fledgling production and postfledging survival of individually marked geese in three recently established populations: one Arctic (Barents Sea) and two temperate (Baltic, North Sea). In the Barents Sea population, timing of hatching was synchronized with the peak in food availability and there was strong stabilizing selection. Although birds in the Baltic and North Sea populations bred 6–7 weeks earlier than Arctic birds, timing of hatching was late in relation to the peak in food availability, and there was moderate to strong directional selection for early breeding. In the Baltic, absolute timing of egg laying advanced considerably over the 20-year study period, but advanced little relative to spring phenology, and directional selection on lay date increased over time. Wing moult of adults started only 2–4 weeks earlier in the temperate populations than in the Arctic. Synchronization between fledging of young and end of wing moult decreased in the temperate populations. Arctic-breeding geese may gradually accumulate body stores from the food they encounter during spring migration, which allows them to breed relatively early and their young to use the peak of the Arctic food resources. By contrast, temperate-breeding birds are not able to acquire adequate body stores from local resources early enough, that is before the quality of food for their young starts to decrease. When global temperatures continue to rise, Arctic-breeding barnacle geese might encounter similar problems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1057-1071
JournalGlobal Change Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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