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Data from: Hyperabundant herbivores limit habitat availability and influence nest-site selection of Arctic-breeding birds

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Flemming, Scott A.; Nol, Erica; Kennedy, Lisa V.; Smith, Paul A. (2020). Data from: Hyperabundant herbivores limit habitat availability and influence nest-site selection of Arctic-breeding birds [Dataset]. Dryad.


1. Understanding an organism’s habitat selection and behavioural flexibility in the face of environmental change can help managers plan for future conservation of that species. Hyperabundant tundra-nesting geese are influencing Arctic environments through their foraging activities. Goose-induced habitat change in Arctic wetlands may influence the availability of habitat for numerous shorebird species that breed sympatrically with geese. 2. Here, we explore whether goose-induced habitat alteration affects shorebird breeding density and nest-site selection. Using habitat data collected at sites with high, moderate, and low goose influence, and samples collected during two periods separated by 11 years, we document the habitat characteristics influenced by geese. We describe the habitat characteristics preferred by shorebirds and relate their availability to goose influence and shorebird density. Finally, we examine whether shorebird nest-site selection has changed over time and whether shorebirds select nest sites differently in habitat influenced by geese. 3. We report spatial and temporal changes in sedge meadow habitat and lateral concealment relating to goose influence. The availability of sedge meadow habitat and the degree of lateral concealment declined with increasing goose influence, and also declined at two sites over the 11 years of the study. 4. Densities of both cover- and open-nesting shorebirds were highest where goose influence was lowest. At sites with low goose influence, cover-nesting shorebirds selected nest sites with more sedge meadow and concealment than at sites with moderate and high goose influence, presumably because these high quality sites were more available. 5. Synthesis and applications. Our results suggest that goose-induced habitat alteration is influencing the availability of preferred habitat, and the densities of sympatric-nesting shorebirds. Cover-nesting species that prefer moist sedge habitat may be especially susceptible to goose-induced alteration, while upland specialists may be unaffected. Our results underscore the need for management of Arctic goose populations to reduce their impacts on sedge meadow habitats. Studies examining the degree to which these effects scale up to impact the population sizes of declining shorebirds should be considered a future research priority.

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