Recovering Whooper Swans do not cause a decline in Eurasian Wigeon via their grazing impact on habitat
Pöysä, Hannu; Elmberg, Johan; Gunnarsson, Gunnar; Holopainen, Sari; Nummi, Petri; Sjöberg, Kjell (2017)
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The Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) is a good example of successful conservation, with rapidly growing numbers in Fennoscandia in recent decades. To the contrary, Eurasian Wigeon (Mareca penelope) shows a strong negative trend in breeding numbers, which raises conservation concerns. Previous research suggests a causal link between recent population trajectories of the two species. Both preferentially breed on wetlands with abundant horsetail (Equisetum spp.), a plant providing food for Whooper Swan and crucial feeding microhabitat for Eurasian Wigeon broods. We here test predictions based on the hypothesis that grazing on Equisetum by Whooper Swan reduces breeding habitat or breeding habitat quality for Eurasian Wigeon. We use data from 60 lakes in which waterfowl were counted in 1990–1991 and 2016, and Equisetum was mapped in 1990–1991 and 2013–2014. Lakes colonized by Whooper Swan typically had more abundant Equisetum vegetation in the past than lakes not colonized. Lake-specific decrease of Equisetum was not associated with colonization by Whooper Swan. The number of lakes occupied by Eurasian Wigeon decreased, but the decrease was not stronger on lakes colonized by Whooper Swan than on those that were not. Contrary to our prediction, current Eurasian Wigeon abundance was positively associated with Whooper Swan abundance. Moreover, Eurasian Wigeon did not decrease more on lakes from which Equisetum disappeared than on lakes in which there was still Equisetum left. This study does not support the idea that Whooper Swan affects Eurasian Wigeon negatively by grazing on Equisetum.
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