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Selection or plasticity? Analysing the shifting reproductive timing of Arctic-breeding Barnacle geese

Winters, Roos (2024) Selection or plasticity? Analysing the shifting reproductive timing of Arctic-breeding Barnacle geese. Master's Research Project 1, Ecology and Evolution.


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In the past few decades, the Arctic has experienced an elevated temperature increase, which is characterized by advancement of snowmelt. This enhances the plant productivity and food availability for Arctic herbivores but could also cause a mismatch between peak food availability and reproductive timing. This study focusses on how the reproductive timing of Arctic-breeding barnacle geese has shifted, as well as the processes behind this shift (selection or plasticity). We studied a population of barnacle geese that breed in Kongsfjorden, Svalbard, which has been monitored from 1990 onwards. Snowmelt and hatch date are strongly correlated, but there is a lag between the advancement of snowmelt (~3 weeks) and hatch date (~2 weeks), indicating a possible mismatch between the hatch date of goslings and optimal food availability. Individuals from this population are moderately consistent in their reproductive timing, and reproductive timing is likely heritable, indicating that selection for a specific hatch date is possible, but that changes in the population are small from generation to generation. The variation in hatch date under changing snowmelt snowmelt conditions was determined to be bigger between-individuals than within-individuals, indicating that the observed change in reproductive timing is mainly caused by selection for early breeding, as this improves the growth rate of goslings and decreases their chances of size-dependent predation from e.g. Arctic foxes.

Item Type: Thesis (Master's Research Project 1)
Supervisor name: Loonen, M.J.J.E.
Degree programme: Ecology and Evolution
Thesis type: Master's Research Project 1
Language: English
Date Deposited: 01 May 2024 10:37
Last Modified: 01 May 2024 10:37

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