Could Have Gone Wrong: Effects of Abrupt Changes in Migratory Behaviour on Harvest in a Waterbird Population
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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To sustainably exploit a population, it is crucial to understand and reduce uncertainties about population processes and effects of harvest. In migratory species, management is challenged by geographically separated changing environmental conditions, which may cause unexpected changes in species distribution and harvest. We describe the Development in the harvest of Svalbard-breeding pink-footed geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) in relation to the observed trajectory and migratory behaviour of the population. In autumn, geese migrate via stopover sites in Norway and Denmark (where they are hunted) to wintering grounds in the Netherlands and Belgium (where they are protected). In Denmark and Norway harvesting increased stepwise during the 2000s. The increase in the population size only partly explained the change. The change corresponded to a simultaneous stepwise increase in numbers of geese staging in Denmark throughout autumn and winter; geese also moved further inland to feed which collectively increased their exposure to hunting. In Norway the increase in harvest reflected greater utilisation of lowland farmland areas by geese, increasing their hunting exposure. The study demonstrates how changes in migratory behaviour can abruptly affect exposure to hunting, which showed a functional response to increased temporal and spatial availability of geese. The harvest has now reached a level likely to cause a population decline. It highlights the need for flexible, internationally coordinated hunting regulations and reliable up-to-date population estimates and hunting bag statistics, which are rare in European management of migratory waterbirds. Without such information decisions are left with judgments based on population estimates, which often have time lags of several years between recording and reporting, hampering possibilities for the timely adjustment of management actions.