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From individual to population level: Temperature and snow cover modulate fledging success through breeding phenology in Greylag geese (Anser anser)


Frigerio, Didone et al. (2021), From individual to population level: Temperature and snow cover modulate fledging success through breeding phenology in Greylag geese (Anser anser), Dryad, Dataset,


Local weather conditions may be used as environmental cues by animals to optimize their breeding behaviour, and could be affected by climate change. We measured associations between climate, breeding phenology, and reproductive output in greylag geese (Anser anser) across 29 years (1990-2018). The birds are individually marked, which allows accurate long-term monitoring of life-history parameters for all pairs within the flock. We had three aims: (1) identify climate patterns at a local scale in Upper Austria, (2) measure the association between climate and greylag goose breeding phenology, and (3) measure the relationship between climate and both clutch size and fledging success. Ambient temperature increased 2°C across the 29-years study period, and higher winter temperature was associated with earlier onset of egg-laying. Using the hatch-fledge ratio, average annual temperature was the strongest predictor for the proportion of fledged goslings per season. There is evidence for an optimum time window for egg-laying (the earliest and latest eggs laid had the lowest fledging success). These findings broaden our understanding of environmental effects and population-level shifts which could be associated with increased ambient temperature and can thus inform future research about the ecological consequences of climate changes and reproductive output in avian systems.


Data were collected over 29 years, from 1990 to 2018, in the Alm valley, Austria, during which period the greylag geese flock consisted of on average 149.14 individuals (SD = 15.64). All data (egg-laying, clutch size, hatching success, fledging success) were recorded 2-3 times per week during the reproductive season of the geese (approx. mid Feb. to end of July). During the mating period, the breeding huts and the traditional nesting locations were checked every two days, eggs weighed, measured and numbered according to their laying sequence. Later on, during the rearing phase, individual families were monitored every two days and the number of the accompanying offspring (i.e., goslings) was documented. The start of egg-laying was calculated as follows: (a) at pair level, the ordinal date of the first laid egg was used; (b) at flock level, the ordinal date of the first egg laid by the first breeding pair was used. In addition to the timing of egg-laying, we recorded (c) clutch size, and (d) ‘gosling survival’ (i.e., the ratio between the number of fledged goslings and the number of hatched eggs).


Sparkling Science, Award: SPA-06/155

FFG programme Bridge, Award: 858551

Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research