We studied the impact of livestock grazing on the distribution of Branta bernicla berniclam (Dark-bellied Brent goose) in the Dutch Wadden Sea during spring. It was hypothesized that livestock facilitate short-term (within-season) grazing for geese as well as long-term (over years). Therefore we measured grazing pressure by geese in salt marsh and polder areas that were either grazed (spring-grazed) or ungrazed during spring (summer-grazed). Additionally, we carried out a preference experiment with captive geese to test the preference between spring-grazed and summer-grazed polder swards. We furthermore compared patterns of use by geese between long-term ungrazed and grazed salt marshes.
In May, there is a difference in grazing pressure by geese between polder pastures that are grazed or ungrazed during spring. In this month, the ungrazed polder pastures are abandoned and the geese shift to either the grazed polder pastures or to the salt marsh. Vegetation in the polder that had been spring-grazed had a lower canopy height and a higher tiller density than summer-grazed vegetation. The captive geese in the preference experiment showed a clear preference for vegetation that had been spring-grazed by sheep over ungrazed vegetation. Goose grazing pressure was negatively correlated to canopy height, both on the polder and on the salt marsh. Within the plant communities dominated by Festuca rubra and Puccinellia maritima, marshes that were intensively grazed by livestock generally had higher grazing pressure by geese than long-term ungrazed or lightly grazed salt marshes.
Nomenclature: van der Meijden (1990).