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Do foraging methods in winter affect morphology during growth in juvenile snow geese?

Do foraging methods in winter affect morphology during growth in juvenile snow geese?

Title: Do foraging methods in winter affect morphology during growth in juvenile snow geese?
Author: Jónsson, Jón Einar   orcid.org/0000-0003-1198-786X
Afton, Alan D.
Date: 2016-10-05
Language: English
Scope: 7656-7670
University/Institute: Háskóli Íslands
University of Iceland
Department: Rannsóknasetur á Snæfellsnesi (HÍ)
Research Centre at Snæfellsnes (UI)
Series: Ecology and Evolution;6(21)
ISSN: 2045-7758
DOI: 10.1002/ece3.2481
Subject: Bill size; Body size; Foraging exertion; Habitat selection; Introgressive hybridization; Morphotypes; Snjógæs; Fæðuöflun dýra; Búsvæði; Vöxtur (lífeðlisfræði); Beinin
URI: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11815/413

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Jónsson, J. E. and Afton, A. D. (2016), Do foraging methods in winter affect morphology during growth in juvenile snow geese?. Ecology and Evolution, 6: 7656–7670. doi: 10.1002/ece3.2481


Physical exertion during growth can affect ultimate size and density of skeletal structures. Such changes from different exercise regimes may explain morphological differences between groups, such as those exhibited by lesser snow geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens; hereafter snow geese) foraging in southwest Louisiana. In rice-prairie habitats (hereafter rice-prairies), snow geese bite off or graze aboveground vegetation, whereas they dig or grub for subterranean plant parts in adjacent coastal marshes. Grubbing involves considerably more muscular exertion than does grazing. Thus, we hypothesized that rates of bone formation and growth would be lower for juveniles wintering in rice-prairies than those in coastal marshes, resulting in smaller bill and skull features at adulthood. First, we tested this exertion hypothesis by measuring bills, skulls, and associated musculature from arrival to departure (November-February) in both habitats in southwest Louisiana, using both banded birds and collected specimens. Second, we used the morphological data to test an alternative hypothesis, which states that smaller bill dimensions in rice-prairies evolved because of hybridization with Ross's geese (C.rossii). Under the exertion hypothesis, we predicted that bill and skull bones of juveniles would grow at different rates between habitats. However, we found that bill and skull bones of juveniles grew similarly between habitats, thus failing to support the exertion hypothesis. Morphometrics were more likely to differ by sex or change with sampling date than to differ by habitat. We predicted that significant, consistent skewness toward smaller birds could indicate hybridization with Ross's geese, but no skewness was observed in our morphological data, which fails to support the hybridization hypothesis. Further research is needed to clarify whether snow geese wintering in Louisiana represent a single polymorphic population that segregates into individually preferred habitats, which we believe at present to be more likely as an explanation than two ecologically and spatially distinct morphotypes.


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