Contrasting habitat use and conservation status of Chinese-wintering and other Eurasian Greater White-fronted Goose (Anser albifrons) populations
GPS/GSM tracking data were used to contrast use of (i) habitats and (ii) protected areas between three Arctic-nesting Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons, GWFG) populations throughout the annual cycle. We wished to demonstrate that the East Asian Continental Population (which winters on natural wetlands in the Chinese Yangtze River floodplain and is currently declining) avoids using farmland at multiple wintering sites. We also gathered tracking evidence to support general observations from two increasing population of GWFG, the North Sea-Baltic (which winters in Europe) and the West Pacific (which winter in Korea and Japan) winter mostly within farmland landscapes, using wetlands only for safe night roosts.
We tracked 156 GWFG throughout their annual cycle using GPS/GSM transmitters from these three populations to determine migration routes and stopover staging patterns. We used Brownian Bridge Movement Models to generate summer, winter and migration stopover home ranges which we then overlaid in GIS with land cover and protected area boundary at national level to determine habitat use and degree of protection from nature conservation designated areas.
Data confirmed that 73% of European wintering GWFG homes ranges were from within farmland, compared to 59% in Japan and Korea, but just 5% in China, confirming the heavy winter use of agricultural landscapes by GWFG away from China, and avoidance of farmland at multiple sites within the Yangtze River floodplain. The same GWFG used farmland in northeast China in spring and autumn, confirming their experience of exploiting such habitats at other stages of their annual cycle. Chinese wintering birds showed the greatest overlap with protected areas of all three populations, showing current levels of site safeguard are failing to protect this population.
Results confirm the need for strategic planning to protect the East Asian Continental GWFG population. While the site protection network in place to protect the species seems adequate, it has failed to stop the declines. Buffalo grazing could serve as one simple strategy to improve the condition of feeding habitats at Dongting Lake and Poyang Lake in the Yangtze, where vast Carex meadows exist. In addition, while we warn against pushing GWFG to winter farmland feeding in China because of the long-term potential to conflict with agricultural interests, we recommend experimental sacrificial, disturbance-free farmland within designated refuge areas adjacent to the Yangtze River floodplain wetland reserves as a manipulative experiment to improve the conservation status of this population in years when natural food sources are limited.