Shocker: Climate change has mixed effects on migratory geese

From the UNIVERSITY OF EXETER and the “bids fly through all sorts of climate zones” department comes this study that has no surprising results at all, in fact, they sound downright disappointed.

Climate change has mixed effects on migratory geese 

Light-bellied Brent geese are shown. CREDIT Kendrew Colhoun

Light-bellied Brent geese are shown. CREDIT Kendrew Colhoun

Climate change improves the breeding chances of migratory geese in the Arctic – but puts mother geese at more risk of death, according to a new study.

Warmer conditions at breeding grounds in north-east Canada help light-bellied Brent geese produce more young, researchers from the University of Exeter found.

But in years when productivity is highest, the death rate among mothers also increases.

The researchers believe this happens because mothers use extra energy laying eggs and face more risk from predators while sitting on their nests, which they make on the ground.

Though the incubation period does not change, colder years mean more mothers abandon nests after failing in early incubation, or do not breed at all.

Meanwhile, in warmer years mothers breed more successfully – so more of them remain sitting on nests or waiting on the ground until their offspring are ready to fly.

“We tend to think of climate change as being all one way, but here we’ve got a population being affected in conflicting ways,” said Dr Ian Cleasby, of the Centre for Ecology and Conservation on the University of Exeter’s Penryn Campus in Cornwall.

“This population is sensitive to changes in adult survival, so the increased breeding may not be enough to offset the loss of more adult females.

“Research like this is important because we have to understand how animal populations will respond to the changing climate if we want to make decisions about protecting biodiversity.”

The geese in question spend their winters in Ireland – many of them in and around Dublin – then visit Iceland each May before reaching their breeding grounds in the Canadian High Arctic in June. They make the return journey in August.

The study, supported by the Irish Brent Goose Research Group, found that conditions in a relatively short window at the start of June played a critical role in goose breeding and survival.

“Migratory species are likely to be particularly sensitive to climatic conditions, and in this case better breeding conditions appear to put the mother geese at risk,” said senior author Professor Stuart Bearhop, also of the University of Exeter.

“They nest on the ground and tend to sit tight and rely on camouflage when predators come near, so better breeding conditions mean more mothers sitting on nests and therefore at risk.

“Breeding also takes a lot of energy, and delaying departure from the Arctic to wait for offspring to be ready to fly could make the journey south more dangerous.”

The study, funded by a grant to Professor Bearhop from the European Research Council, looked at key demographic parameters: adult survival, first-year survival and productivity.

More than 4,000 geese in this population have been marked as part of research projects since 2001.

The paper, entitled “Climatic conditions produce contrasting influences on demographic traits in a long distance Arctic migrant”, is published in the Journal of Animal Ecology.

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76 thoughts on “Shocker: Climate change has mixed effects on migratory geese

  1. Increased grazing on golf courses has a greater effect than climate change on migratory geese populations. Likewise the removal of introduced predators from islands where the Aleutian subspecies of the Canada Goose allowed it to recover from “extinction” to reach historical high abundance. Disturbing how much useless research has been focused on through the extremely narrow lens of climate change, resulting in a humungus waste of money to only show minimal effects.

  2. More geese breed successfully, which means a larger number of geese sitting on nests, which means a larger number of them are killed by predators.
    This study seems to be focusing on the wrong thing.
    What matters is how many young reach adult hood each year.
    That’s how you determine breeding success.

    • My thoughts exactly. Executive Summary as follows – Cold bad, warm can be good but warm is bad when warm is good. More breeding good but too much breeding bad. Results inconclusive (bad), need more research money (good).

    • And the female gooses don’t keep on laying eggs in their nest just because the air temperature remains warm longer.

      And there are tens of thousands of female gooses that remain in a warm climate for most or all of the year to hatch their clutch of eggs because of the lack of predators and the “good eatin” they find on golf courses, athletic fields, private estates and well manicured lawns.

      When the weather stay too warm, ….. too late in the Fall, …… the Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge in central New York State has a big problem ….. with the migrating waterfowl arriving from Canada who stopped off there to “rest and eat” on their way South to their “wintering” location.

      The eatin is good, the weather is warm and there is no big hurry to continue on southward ….. and that is what causes the problem because there is no room left at the MNWR for the hordes of waterfowl still arriving from Canada.

  3. “Mixed effects” is what you get when you neglect to call in a climate consultant to do the editing work.

      • The correct terminology is “Canada Geese”. Although some of these geese may be from Canada and thus would be Canadian Geese. Snow Geese from Canada also would be Canadian Geese but they would not be “Canada Geese” which is a separate species.

      • Now that would be to exclusive whereas Canadian Geese would be more inclusive and have a far larger Union Fee base.

  4. The authors are merely speculating regarding their “theorized” increase in predation. Data free analyses at their best. We in the engineering field call “data free analysis” …guessing.

    What is the effect of climate change on the predator populations? How about the climate change effects on the extra hatchlings? Do more or less survive due to climate change?
    If the net effect due to climate change is that the Canada goose population is increasing then the net effect is positive, not mixed. If the population is decreasing then the net effect is negative. However, as there are so many differing factors that have effects on population including increase of feeding grounds, increase of habitat, changes in diseases, exposures, etc. that one would be very hard pressed indeed to attribute any one factor as the driving force.
    Seems like they spent a few dollars to arrive at, “Huh, we don’t know.”

    • What is the effect of climate change on the predator populations?

      That depends on which species of predator you are asking about.

      In other words, it becomes a “birth vrs death” contest between a predator and its prey.

      When a predator population is low, ….. its prey population will increase. ..…. . which will trigger an increase in the predator population, ….. which then triggers a decrease in the prey population, ….. which in turn triggers a decrease in the predator population ….. and the cycle starts to repeat itself.

  5. Back in the 1980s I recall great big flocks of wild Canada geese flying south in high V formation starting around Sept 15. Now I rarely those big flocks, just small groups of semi tame local geese flying to the local cornfield. What happened to the bignorant flocks?


    • Where have all the snow geese gone
      long time passing
      Where have all the snow geese gone
      long time ago
      Where have all the snow geese gone
      gone to hunters everyone
      When will they ever learn,
      when will they ever learn.

      • Haha, I just noticed your poem was about ‘snow’ geese. Your videos are showing ‘Canadian’ geese.

      • Not sure why they need to shoot them. Looks like they could just reach out of the blind and grab their quota.

      • MarkW, those birds you see on the ground are ‘fake’ decoys to a attract the flying birds, they are not real. I don’t hunt but I believe you are not allowed to shoot birds that are on the ground anyway. It’s not sporting and could lead to some iffy shooting practices (pellets going sideways instead of up).

      • Duncan,
        Snow Geese worked better because it is just 2 syllables like Flowers from the original song
        Canada Geese is 3 and Canadian Geese is 5, more correct but to many syllables for the flow

    • Don’t know where you live Scott, but if I had to guess most of them moved to New Jersey and stay all year long. If you live near any body of water larger than a wading pool, expect to have free “lawn fertilization” services courtesy of the flying rats, er, I mean, Canada geese.

    • I think a lot of these Canada geese have opted out of migrating. Here in the San Francisco Bay area flocks of these geese have moved in, and I’ve seen hatchlings among them, which were certainly not hatched in Canada. The biologists studying migratory species don’t seen to have considered that migrating might be optional.

    • Perhaps they are letting their bias show. They offer bad climate news to the highest bidder.

  6. The problem with wildlife studies like this is the conclusions are so very constrained by the conditions and time frame. While the information is obviously useful for the animals studied, applicability to other populations or different parts of the range may not be valid. The humbling fact of nature is that there is so much hidden from our view that the “truth” from a finding may only be a fleeting vignette in the grand picture. Also, anyone who has watched geese and other migratory birds know they really are tough customers. Weather extremes are well managed by their physiology. I once saw several swans on a lake in Nebraska in the dead of winter. The lake was frozen to a depth of at least a foot, as were all the lakes within 50 miles. I have no idea why they were there or where they were going to get food but they certainly didn’t appear to be stressed about it. Not to disparage the study, but for a species that has been around for several million years, 1,500 years worth of data would make the conclusions more in line with the real world. And there we have the rub.

  7. So the death rate is higher for mothers who raise a brood, than it is for mothers who abandon the nest or don’t breed at all. Sounds like a “stable system” to me.
    I guess that is a disappointment, when you are looking for a headline that gets picked up in major media outlets.

  8. you know…..if this study was about arctic foxes

    Warmer weather makes more geese sit tight…
    …arctic fox populations explode

  9. “Research like this is important because we have to understand how animal populations will respond to the changing climate if we want to make decisions about protecting biodiversity.”
    These idiots just don’t seem to get the fact that life adapts to a continually changing environment. Our “decisions about protecting biodiversity” (whatever the heck that means) have nothing to do with it. The hubris and stupidity is mind-boggling.

    • The key will be in understanding how the climate is changing. My guess is they will be looking in the wrong direction.

  10. “We think of climate change as being all one way…” Maybe you and yours do, but we don’t. And if the goose population is going up with more, and more successful, breeding, your ‘problem’ isn’t. A quick google shows that the Irish population trend is stable to up, with considerable weather driven annual variability in percent of returning hatchlings.

    • “We tend to think of climate change as being all one way, but …”

      And by “we” he means the echo chamber consensus and agenda driven folks that dominate his daily inputs. Or maybe he just has a turd in his pocket.

      Mr. Cleasby’s your tendency to ignore reality limits his ability to contribute and do good work.

    • “We tend to think of climate change as being all one way…” – this was the statement that made most impression on me. ‘Research’ disguised as looking for more confirmation of an already held view.

      • “We tend to think of climate change as being all one way…” – this was the statement that made most impression on me.
        Yes, the same with me. No actual scientist would think of something as complex as global warming in as complex a system as the earth’s atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, and animals, as being all one way.
        So who is this “We” he is referring to? Some set of academic political radicals? Truth sometimes is accidentally spoken.

  11. Breeding also takes a lot of energy, and delaying departure from the Arctic to wait for offspring to be ready to fly could make the journey south more dangerous.

    So, the geese are supposed to breed and then leave before their young are ready to fly! Only an academic could compose that sentence.

  12. Just a brief comment on the fox and geese story, from fabled times.

    Do hyperabundant Arctic-nesting geese pose a problem for sympatric species?

    Scott A. Flemming,a Anna Calvert,b Erica Nol,a Paul A. Smithc

    aTrent University, Department of Environmental and Life Sciences, Peterborough, ON K9J 7B8, Canada.

    Environmental Reviews, 2016, 24(4): 393-402, 10.1139/er-2016-0007

    The abstract is a good read.

    The question in my mind: would the predator/fox/eagle/bear population suddenly increase during the time of abundant geese? A fox will eat only until they are full and then usually quit as over eating adds extra weight and the extra weight makes them less speedy and hence unable to catch prey. I would suspect, as the paper suggests, some changes in habitat and ground cover during geese abundance. Food for thought.

  13. I’ve watched a lot of geese fly, and one side of their V formation is always longer than the other. Why is that?

    • Doug. The leader has to work harder than the rest because every other one is in the slipstream of the one ahead of it. So the leader gets tired and slows down a bit, and the next one to its right or left takes the lead. You can see this if you have a chance to watch for a few minutes. I’ve seen it, plus read about it somewhere.

      The theory is that the turbulence from a wingtip gives a bit of lift to the goose whose head is behind the wingtip. This dictates the shape of the “V”

    • Bottom line is geese can’t count and therefore don’t know that their formation is asymmetric. Aerodynamics don’t require the sides of the “V” to be the same. They fly in the vortex zones created by the preceding goose. BTW any flying goose will produce one vortex from each wing so in theory the geese could be flying in a pyramid if they wanted to, but they would be bumping into each other to much. The surviving geese seem to have a determined a separation distance for maneuvering. the ones who didn’t figure it out I assume didn’t survive, or just stayed around golf courses.

      • Maybe some geese can count. I remember seeing an asymmetric V formation of about a dozen geese once, and the goose at the end of the long side moved over to the end of the short side, making the V less asymmetric.

    • Everything Smart Rock says is true, but he studiously avoids answering the question you asked.
      My observation is that if there is any sort of a crosswind with respect to the direction of the V, then the *downwind* leg will be the preferred, longer leg.

      It is something to keep an eye out for, as you see those big V formations cruising along.

      • Maybe the geese are just longer on the long side.

        Or maybe its a “left wingy” verses a “right wingy” thingy ……. with the “left wingy” gooses lined up on the “left” side of the “V” formation …… and the “right wingy” gooses lined up on the “right” side of the “V” formation

    • No all of them … because there will be new ones coming in once the existing ones are gone. They are like the fabled Tribbles.

  14. I wonder what those geese did in the last (or any) glacial period, when those breeding grounds were under 3,000 metres of ice?

    Same argument applies to non-migrating species that live up there, like muskox, arctic foxes, arctic hares, “sik-siks” and let’s not forget the (cute, cuddly) polar bears.

    It’s a serious mistake to underestimate the ability of species to adapt to changing climate, or changing anything, really. if they adapt enough and get geographically severed from their parent population, they can become another species.

    But underestimating does provide a living for otherwise unemployable biologists.

    • As their habitats moved south so did the non-migrators. I suppose you could say their migration patterns were on a geologic time scale. Of course because species differentiation occurs on a much faster time scale than ice ages do, one might assume that the species that began the ultra-slow migration to stay just ahead of the ice sheets might not be the same species that returned north when the ice sheets receded.

    • “I wonder what those geese did in the last (or any) glacial period”
      Interesting question. At the Last Glacial Maximum, the edge of the ice sheet was New York City, at least on the coast. The birds could have flown 2 miles north, and up 2,000 ft vertical onto the glacier, for predator-free nesting. Then they could glide down a few miles to New Jersey for foraging. Annual migrations probably would have been dramatically shorter than current day, as well.

    • By increased (more and better) regulatory protections for the gooses & the gooses habitat, so as to mitigate the climate change negatives. And since there aren’t any climate change negatives the “climate change” regulations will improve the lives and livelihoods of the gooses (ganders too).

  15. “The researchers believe this happens because mothers use extra energy laying eggs and face more risk from predators while sitting on their nests”

    So the answer is easy….no more breeding!!! It really doesn’t matter whether there is one egg, or a billion,in the nest. The mother still has to sit on them,and then raise the fledglings. And someone(taxpayer) paid these clowns for this useless piece of TP they wrote? We have to many big cities with idiots in them. More nukes!

  16. Well spotted AW. (You just couldn’t make this stuff up !).

    oh and … “biodiversity” – LMofBr warned us all about that little “gem” a few years ago.

    Sounds like the so-called university is really good at extracting OPM (other people’s money).

    Snout troughing eco-tards, the lot of ’em.

    Regards,
    WL

    • Same for California. They may become the new state bird … on second thought … naaaah. Bad idea.

    • Same for the whole of the United Kingdom. They are now a pest across the nation, mainly because there collective droppings devastate any garden or grass land that reaches down to the rivers edge.

    • I really don’t know why that one learning there is now more Canada Geese on Vancouver Island, …… in California …… or in the United Kingdom would surprise anyone …… anymore than one learning there is now more Government Employees in the Federal System, State Systems and in County and Local Systems.

      “DUH”, …….. “troughfeeders” are “troughfeeders”, ….. and they will continue to thrive, multiply and survive as long as they are permitted to “freely feed at the trough”.

  17. At the beginning there is a quote, ‘bids fly through….’ – should that not read ‘birds fly through…..’ ??

  18. A BBC news report last month on the effect of global warming on migrating birds from Africa had the RSPB representative being interviewed saying that global warming was effecting their annual migration “Because now that the deserts were increasing in area through GW, the birds had to fly further for their food stops” Absolutely true.
    Mr Trump will need to work hard to eradicate the infectious disease of Global Warming.

  19. ‘We tend to think of climate change being all one way…’ – so says Dr Ian Cleasby of Exeter University’s Penrhyn faculty….
    Oh, brother – have YOU let the cat out of the bag…..!

  20. From the UNIVERSITY OF EXETER and the “birds fly through all sorts of climate zones” department comes this study that has no surprising results at all, in fact, they sound downright disappointed.

    Climate change has mixed effects on migratory geese:

    Light-bellied Brent geese are shown. CREDIT Kendrew Colhoun

    Light-bellied Brent geese are shown. CREDIT Kendrew Colhoun

    Climate change improves the breeding chances of migratory geese in the Arctic – but puts mother geese at more risk of death, according to a new study.
    __________________________________________

    So the Kinderlied ‘Fuchs du hast die Gans gestohlen’

    applies to migratory geese in the arctic + their predators too.

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