Goose-induced Changes in Vegetation and Land Cover between 1976 and 1997 in an Arctic Coastal Marsh
Abraham, Kenneth F.
Jefferies, Robert L.
Rockwell, Robert F.
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Since the 1970s, a breeding colony of lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens L.) at La Pérouse Bay, Manitoba, has grown 8% annually. This increase has led to significant loss of plant cover in all major salt- and freshwater coastal habitats between 1976 and 1997. A series of transects established in 1976 was resurveyed in 1997. Exposed sediment, extent and type of vegetative cover, and aquatic areas were recorded along transects using a classification of 12 a priori classes. Five regions within the colony were identified, and changes in vegetation cover differed among these and depended on unique combinations of vegetation class and year. Grubbing by geese has led to loss of graminoid plants, especially in intertidal and supratidal marshes. Exposed sediments have largely replaced previously vegetated areas since 1976. Species characteristic of disturbed sites have colonized exposed sediment with the most abundant species varying according to soil conditions. In intertidal marshes, willow cover declined in association with the development of hypersalinity after loss of the graminoid mat, but willow cover increased at the base of well-drained beach ridges and in a river delta with ample winter snow accumulation and freshwater flow in spring that protected ground vegetation. Most of the expected successional trends associated with isostatic uplift and changes in soil organic matter failed to occur because of intense goose foraging throughout the 20 years. The likelihood of sustained recovery of plant communities in the immediate coastal zone is very low, as long as goose numbers continue to increase. Indirect effects of vegetation loss (e.g., hypersalinity) and subsequent erosion of exposed sediments following grubbing will delay plant colonization and retard succession.
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