Breeding in the high Arctic is time constrained and animals should therefore start with their annual reproduction as early as possible. To allow for such early reproduction in migratory birds, females arrive at the breeding grounds either with body stores or they try to rapidly develop their eggs after arrival using local resources. Svalbard breeding barnacle geese Branta leucopsis have to fly non-stop for about 1100 km from their last continental staging site to the archipelago making the transport of body stores costly. However, environmental conditions at the breeding grounds are highly unpredictable favouring residual body stores allowing for egg production after arrival on the breeding grounds. We estimated the reliance on southern continental resources, i.e. body stores for egg formation, in barnacle geese using stable isotope ratios in the geese’s forage along the flyway and in their eggs. Females adopted mixed breeding strategies by using southern resources as well as local resources to varying extents for egg formation. Southern capital in lipid-free yolk averaged 41% (range: 23 65%), early laid eggs containing more southern capital than eggs laid late in the season. Yolk lipids and albumen did not vary over time and averaged a southern capital proportion of 54% (range: 32 73%) and 47% (range: 25 88%), respectively. Our findings indicate that female geese vary the use of southern resources when synthesising their eggs and this allocation also varies among egg tissues. Their mixed and flexible use of distant and local resources potentially allows for adaptive adjustments to environmental conditions encountered at the archipelago just before breeding.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Avian Biology
Journal publication date2011

ID: 356548