The hub of the wheel or hitchhikers? The potential influence of large avian herbivores on other trophic levels in wetland ecosystems

By Gunnar Gunnarsson, Elsie Kjeller, Sari Holopainen, Henric Djerf, Johan Elmberg, Hannu Pöysä, Pär Söderquist & Jonas Waldenström

Goose and swan populations have increased concurrently with environmental degradation of wetlands, such as eutrophication, vegetation losses, and decrease in biodiversity. An important question is whether geese and swans contribute to such changes or if they instead benefit from them.

Whooper swans by Martin Birchall / WWT.

We collected data from 37 wetlands in southern Sweden April − July 2021 to study relationships between geese, swans and other waterbird guilds, macrophytes, invertebrates, as well as physical and water chemistry variables. Neither goose nor swan abundance was negatively correlated with other trophic levels (abundance, richness, or cover). On the contrary, goose or swan abundances were positively related to abundances of surface and benthic feeding waterbirds, cover of specific macrophytes, and to invertebrate richness and abundance. Moreover, invertebrates (number of taxa or abundance) were positively associated with abundance of several waterbird guilds and total phosphorous with surface feeders, whereas water colour was positively (surface feeders) or negatively (benthic feeders) related. We conclude that waterbirds are more abundant in productive wetlands and that geese and swans do not show clear deleterious effects on other trophic levels included in this study. However, patterns may be masked at the species level, which should be addressed in further studies, complemented with experimental studies of grazing impact.

The full article can be found here