Utilisation of Wadden Sea salt marshes by geese in relation to livestock grazing

Daan Bos, Maarten J.J.E. Loonen, Martin Stock, Frank Hofeditz, Alexandra J. van der Graaf, Jan P. Bakker

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Abstract

To arctic breeding geese, the salt marshes of the International Wadden Sea are important spring staging areas. Many of these marshes have always been grazed with livestock (mainly cattle and sheep). To evaluate the influence of livestock grazing on composition and structure of salt-marsh communities and its consequences for habitat use by geese, a total of 17 pairs of grazed and ungrazed marshes were visited both in April and May 1999, and the accumulated grazing pressure by geese was estimated using dropping counts. Observed grazing pressure was related to management status and to relevant vegetation parameters. The intensity of livestock grazing influences the vegetation on the marsh. Salt marshes that are not grazed by livestock are characterised by stands with a taller canopy, a lower cover of grasses preferred by geese, and a higher cover of plants that are not preferred. Overall goose-dropping densities are significantly lower in ungrazed marshes compared to marshes grazed by livestock. Some ungrazed marshes had comparatively high goose grazing pressure, and these were all natural marshes on a sandy soil, or artificial mainland marshes with a recent history of intensive livestock grazing. Goose grazing is associated with a short canopy. The plant communities with short canopy, dominated by Agrostis stolonifera, Festuca rubra and Puccinellia maritima, together account for 85% of all goose droppings in our data. The sites that were not visited by geese differed very little from those that were visited, in the parameters we measured. This might indicate that there was no shortage of available habitat for spring staging geese in the Wadden Sea, in the study period.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalJournal for Nature Conservation
Volume13
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

Keywords

  • Vegetation-succession
  • Hare
  • Habitat-use
  • Grazing pressure
  • Barnacle Goose
  • Brent Goose

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