Conservation and management conflicts in the Greenland Barnacle Goose

Lead Research Organisation: University of Exeter
Department Name: Biosciences


Conflicts between people and animals are amongst the most formidable impediments to effective conservation of threatened species. Managing such issues is highly complex, but resolving them is growing in importance, particularly in the developed world, as conflicts between agricultural, recreational and conservation interests increase.
Such is the case with the Greenland Barnacle Goose (GBG), a species of conservation importance (Annex 1 of the EC Birds Directive) protected via hunting moratoria and roost site designation. However, in recent years the population has increased considerably, and as a grazer, it is now viewed as an agricultural 'pest' in some areas. On Islay, a stronghold for GBG, there is a long standing conflict between conservation and agricultural interests, and similar conflicts are emerging in other parts of Scotland. Current management on Islay involves deliberate scaring, lethal control and damage-offset payments to farmers. However, the efficacy of these measures is not clear and assessing impact is challenging for a number of reasons: GBG ecology (e.g. migratory behaviour, metapopulation dynamics, etc) makes it difficult to predict management outcomes; the population increase may have levelled off, making projections more uncertain and potentially increasing the conservation imperative; it is sympatric with the globally Endangered Greenland White-fronted Goose, which can be impacted by GBG management activity.
Applying the latest research thinking and analytical approaches combined with a strong partnership involving a skilled research team, government agency and conservationists, would provide a unique opportunity for a CASE student to flourish academically and contribute to the resolution of this conflict.
The student would investigate GBG responses to management at multiple levels:
Management approaches can have a number of indirect effects: disrupting pair bonds, non-lethal injuries, increased lead exposure (from shot) in feeding areas, reduced energy intake and increased energy consumption. None of these have featured in any population modelling thus far but all can influence demography either directly or via carry over effects. The student would investigate this using a broad range of measurements (faecal and blood lead and stress measurements; x-rays for embedded shot; telemetry and time-energy budgets, condition indices, gut parasites, etc) from individually marked birds to estimate the indirect impact of management on fitness.
The manner in which geese respond to scaring and lethal control is unclear. Removed and displaced individuals may simply be replaced by others from poorer habitat; geese may change when they feed (e.g. nocturnally); displaced geese may end up concentrated in smaller areas. The student would use long-term data sets (distribution, habitat and disturbance), telemetry and faecal counts to assess the efficacy of the current management regime.
High levels of disturbance may drive high emigration rates, thereby moving the problem elsewhere. Alternatively, removal of birds may create opportunities (as above). Such responses will be strongly influenced by the patterns of density-dependence and compensation operating in the population. The student will analyse resighting datasets to estimate the key demographic parameters within a metapopulation framework using a combination of Individual-Based Models and Integrated Projection Models.


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