Project

High-Arctic tundra ecosystems

For over 20 years Alterra Wageningen UR extensively researches the population dynamics of migratory arctic-nesting geese.

The main issue here is the vulnerability of the populations of these geese to changes in the harsh arctic conditions in their breeding grounds, affected by climate change. On the other hand, conflicting interests between protection, hunting and agricultural use of their wintering grounds are studied. During the last two decades researchers studied the migration of Brent and Greater White-fronted geese from Western Europe to Taimyr, Northern Siberia, using individually marked geese and satellite transmitters. During 12 expeditions Dutch and Russian researchers have constructed a fairly complete picture of the ecology of the high-arctic tundra in this area.

In addition, research is carried out on:

  • Migration routes, the use of stop-over sites and breeding site fidelity. A large number of geese is caught and released with legrings or neckbands both on the breeding grounds and on the wintering and spring staging sites. An international group of volunteers is active to report sightings of the marked geese. A special website has been created to enable these volunteers to report the sightings of these marked geese
  • The ecosystem interactions between predators, geese and other prey, and current issues such as the avian flu virus in relation to migratory birds.
  • The societal consequences of increasing numbers of geese wintering in The Netherlands.

Results:

  • An intricate relationship was demonstrated between the occurrence of cyclic peak populations in Siberian lemmings and high breeding success in both geese and arctic breeding waders (shorebirds), due to for the impact of  lemmings on the numbers and behaviour of predators.
  • The cyclic tri-annual peak populations in lemmings, however, did not or only faintly occur several times in the 90s, causing a significant decline in especially Brent goose populations wintering in the Netherlands. One of the hypotheses for the recent irregularity in cyclic lemming peak populations is climate change.
  • Geese do not seem to play a significant role in the distribution of avian flu.