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High fidelity does not preclude colonization: range expansion of molting Black Brant on the Arctic coast of Alaska

April 10, 2014

High rates of site fidelity have been assumed to infer static distributions of molting geese in some cases. To test this assumption, we examined movements of individually marked birds to understand the underlying mechanisms of range expansion of molting Black Brant (Branta bernicla nigricans) on the Arctic Coastal Plain (ACP) of Alaska. The Teshekpuk Lake Special Area (TLSA) on the ACP was created to protect the primary molting area of Brant. When established in 1977, the TLSA was thought to include most, if not all, wetlands used by molting Brant on the ACP. From 2010 to 2013, we surveyed areas outside the TLSA and counted an average of 9800 Brant per year, representing 29–37% of all molting Brant counted on the ACP. We captured and banded molting Brant in 2011 and 2012 both within the TLSA and outside the TLSA at the Piasuk River Delta and Cape Simpson to assess movements of birds among areas across years. Estimates of movement rates out of the TLSA exceeded those into the TLSA, demonstrating overall directional dispersal. We found differences in sex and age ratios and proportions of adult females with brood patches, but no differences in mass dynamics for birds captured within and outside the TLSA. Overall fidelity rates to specific lakes (0.81, range = 0.49–0.92) were unchanged from comparable estimates obtained in the early 1990s. We conclude that Brant are dispersing from the TLSA into new molting areas while simultaneously redistributing within the TLSA, likely as a consequence of changes in relative habitat quality. Shifts in distribution resulted from colonization of new areas by young birds as well as low levels of directional dispersal of birds that previously molted in the TLSA. Based on combined counts, the overall number of molting Brant across the ACP has increased substantially.

Publication Year 2014
Title High fidelity does not preclude colonization: range expansion of molting Black Brant on the Arctic coast of Alaska
DOI 10.1111/jofo.12051
Authors Paul L. Flint, Brandt W. Meixell, Edward J. Mallek
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Journal of Field Ornithology
Index ID 70101165
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center