Response of forage plants to alteration of temperature and spring thaw date: Implications for geese in a warming Arctic

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Changes in summer temperatures in Arctic Alaska have led to longer and warmer growing seasons over the last three decades. Corresponding with these changes in climate, the abundance and distributions of geese have increased and expanded over the same period. We used an experimental approach to assess the response of goose forage plants to simulated environmental change. We subjected Carex subspathacea, a preferred goose forage growing on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of Alaska, to manipulations of temperature and timing of spring thaw to measure potential effects in terms of plant nitrogen concentration, aboveground biomass, and total nitrogen availability. Carex subspathacea responded to warming in a dynamic fashion. Increases in temperature led to decreases in leaf nitrogen concentration but increases in aboveground biomass. The increase in biomass was stronger than the decline in nitrogen concentration such that total nitrogen availability was increased with temperature for the first 35–40 d of the season. Grazing removal accounted for only minimal offtake of biomass, and we found no indication that grazing maintained elevated levels of nitrogen concentration longer in the season as reported in other studies. Based on demonstrated relationships in the literature between forage nitrogen concentrations and gosling growth rates, we conclude that there is currently abundant high-quality forage available across the ACP. This finding fits with recent evidence of high gosling growth rates and increasing trends in goose abundance on the ACP. Our results suggest that with climate warming of a few degrees, nitrogen concentration of forage may decrease, but forage biomass and total nitrogen availability will increase. Our data suggest that nitrogen concentration will not fall below the minimum threshold required by geese in the near future. As such, we suggest that there is currently no bottom-up limitation to goose numbers on the ACP.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Response of forage plants to alteration of temperature and spring thaw date: Implications for geese in a warming Arctic
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1002/ecs2.3627
Volume 12
Issue 7
Year Published 2021
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Contributing office(s) Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB
Description e03627, 17 p.
Country United States
State Alaska
Other Geospatial Smith River Estuary
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