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Title: The demography of the Greenland white-fronted goose
Author: Weegman, Mitchell Dale
ISNI:       0000 0004 5348 9962
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2014
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New analytical and technological tools have the potential to yield unprecedented insights into the life histories of migratory species. I used Bayesian population models and Global Positioning System-acceleration tracking devices to understand the demographic mechanism and likely drivers underpinning the Greenland White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons flavirostris) population decline. I used a 27-year capture-mark-recapture dataset from the main wintering site for these birds (Wexford, Ireland) to construct multistate models that estimated age- and sex-specific survival and movement probabilities and found no sex-bias in emigration or ‘remigration’ rates (chapter 2). These formed the foundation for an integrated population model, which included population size and productivity data to assess source-sink dynamics through estimation of age-, site-, and year-specific survival and movement probabilities, the results of which suggest that Wexford is a large sink and that a reduction in productivity (measured as recruitment rate) is the proximate demographic mechanism behind the population decline (chapter 3). Low productivity may be due to environmental conditions on breeding areas in west Greenland, whereby birds bred at youngest ages when conditions were favourable during adulthood and the breeding year (chapter 4), and possibly mediated by links with the social system, as birds remained with parents into adulthood, forfeiting immediate reproductive success, although a cost-benefit model showed the ‘leave’ strategy was marginally favoured over the ‘stay’ strategy at all ages (chapter 5). Foraging during spring does not appear to limit breeding, as breeding and non-breeding birds did not differ in their proportion of time feeding or energy expenditure (chapter 6). Two successful breeding birds were the only tagged individuals (of 15) to even attempt to nest, suggesting low breeding propensity has contributed to low productivity. Although birds wintering in Ireland migrated further to breeding areas than those wintering in Scotland, there were no differences in feeding between groups during spring migration (chapter 7). These findings suggest that Greenland White-fronted Geese are not limited until arrival on breeding areas and the increasingly poor environmental conditions there (chapter 8). More broadly, these findings demonstrate the application of novel tools to diagnose the cause of population decline.
Supervisor: Bearhop, Stuart; Hodgson, David J.; Fox, Anthony David; Hilton, Geoff M. Sponsor: Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust ; College of Life and Environmental Sciences ; University of Exeter
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Bayesian multistate model ; integrated population model ; population biology ; capture-mark-recapture ; avian life history theory ; Greenland White-fronted Goose ; cohort fitness ; parent-offspring relationship ; movement ecology ; accelerometry ; overall dynamic body acceleration