Livestock in salt marshes help farmers and geese

October 24, 2002

If livestock are allowed to graze in salt marshes in the Wadden Sea area, the vegetation remains in a good condition for the hundreds of thousands of Brent Geese which forage there en route to Siberia. When such grazing does not take place on a large scale, the geese are likely to become more dependent on pastures. This is the conclusion reached by biologists from the University of Groningen in a Technology Foundation STW project.

Each spring about 200,000 Brent Geese depart from England and France to the Siberian tundra to breed. En route they descend on salt marshes and polders in the Wadden Sea area to eat young grass. Farmers noted that geese seemed to have a preference for grasslands with short vegetation. STW researchers at the University of Groningen havenow discoveredthe reasons for this. The ecologists measured the preference of the geese for small experimental areas. Some areas had little grass and others had much. Some areas contained a high protein level (a measure of the nutritional quality) and some a low level. The biologists studied the behaviour of the birds and counted the number of droppings on each trial area. From the droppings, the time spent by the geese in an area could be determined, as geese produce droppings at very regular intervals. The study revealed that geese prefer grass areas where the rate of protein ingestion is the highest.

That is the case for short grass, as in general this has a high protein level. Furthermore, Brent Geese find it easier to eat short grass than long grass. Grazing livestock can help to keep the grass short when its growth is particularly strong, as is the case in spring. If the geese are not chased away, they regularly return to the same area. By doing this they keep the grass short and thus maintain the quality of their own food. A policy in recent years of tolerating geese in certain agricultural areas along the Dutch Wadden Sea coast has therefore been favourable for the geese, as they prevent the grass from becoming too long. The preference for short grass also means that the natural vegetation succession on salt marshes poses a serious threat for the geese. The undisrupted growth of salt marsh vegetation results in plants which are attractive for the geese being displaced by plants which are inedible. In this situation, the livestock are also an ally of the Brent Geese. Grazing cows, sheep and horses prevent the salt marsh vegetation from becoming too coarse.
-end-
Further information can be obtained from Daan Bos (Department of Plant and Animal Ecology, University of Groningen, now at Altenburg en Wymenga), tel. 31-503-119-691 (home), e-mail d.bos@altwym.nl. The thesis will shortly be available at www.ub.rug.nl/eldoc/dis/science/d.bos/. The defence of the doctoral thesis will take place on 25 October 2002. Mr Bos' supervisors are Prof. J.P. Bakker and Prof. R.H. Drent.

The research was funded by the Netherlands organisation for Scientific Research (NWO).

(Photo) Brent Geese prefer short grass. This is because the rate of protein uptake by Brent Geese decreases as the quantity of available food increases.

Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research

Related Livestock Articles from Brightsurf:

US agricultural water use declining for most crops and livestock production
Agricultural production and food manufacturing account for a third of water usage in the U.S.

Sicker livestock may increase climate woes
Climate change is affecting the spread and severity of infectious diseases around the world -- and infectious diseases may in turn be contributing to climate change, according to a new paper in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.

Reducing transmission risk of livestock disease
The risk of transmitting the livestock virus PPRV, which threatens 80% of the world's sheep and goats, increases with certain husbandry practices, including attendance at seasonal grazing camps and the introduction of livestock to the herd.

Livestock expansion is a factor in global pandemics
The growth of global livestock farming is a threat to our biodiversity and also increases the health risks to both humans and domesticated animals.

23 years of water quality data from crop-livestock systems
Researchers summarize runoff water quantity and quality data from native tallgrass prairie and crop-livestock systems in Oklahoma between 1977 and 1999.

Saving livestock by thinking like a predator
Humans have struggled to reduce the loss of livestock to carnivores for thousands of years, and yet, solutions remain elusive.

Understanding the impact of COVID-19 in pets and livestock
A new paper identifies the critical need for research on the ability of the COVID-19 virus to infect certain animal species, the transmissibility of infection between humans and those animals, and the impact infection could have on food security and the economy.

Herd immunity: Disease transmission from wildlife to livestock
Scientists provide guidelines for minimizing the risk of spreading disease between elk and cattle in Southern Alberta.

Livestock disease risk tied to herd management style
A new look at the prevalence of the widespread and often fatal sheep and goat plague virus in Tanzania reveals that livestock managed in a system where they are the sole source of an owners' livelihood are more likely to become infected than livestock managed in a system where the owners' livelihood is supplemented by agriculture.

National livestock movement bans may prove economically damaging
New research from the University of Warwick has pioneered an economic perspective on controlling livestock diseases.

Read More: Livestock News and Livestock Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.