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Legacy effects of habitat degradation by Lesser Snow Geese on nesting Savannah Sparrows
The Condor (2014)
  • David N. Koons, Utah State University
  • Stephen L. Peterson
  • Robert F. Rockwell
  • Christopher R. Wittle
Increased growth of the midcontinental population of Lesser Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens caerulescens) has led to overgrazing and habitat degradation at their Arctic and sub-Arctic breeding grounds. This habitat degradation has been shown to induce a trophic cascade that negatively affects plant, insect, and other avian species that share these habitats. In conjunction with a long-term study of the impacts of Lesser Snow Geese on habitat, we examined the dual influences of climate and long-term habitat change on the nesting occurrence of Savannah Sparrows near Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. Using multistate occupancy models, we found that variability in early-summer temperature and precipitation modulated year-to-year variability in nesting occurrence and detection probabilities. Extreme warm and wet conditions in early summer can benefit breeding Savannah Sparrows across the landscape. However, such events have not been prevalent enough to override the ~80% decline in Savannah Sparrow nesting occurrence over 36 yr. This dramatic decline can be attributed to the legacy of Lesser Snow Goose foraging, which has led to an 84% reduction in preferred shrub habitat for nesting Savannah Sparrows. Management actions targeted at reducing Lesser Snow Goose abundance and habitat restoration will be needed to allow sympatric Savannah Sparrows and functionally similar species to recover.
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David N. Koons, Stephen L. Peterson, Robert F. Rockwell and Christopher R. Wittle. "Legacy effects of habitat degradation by Lesser Snow Geese on nesting Savannah Sparrows" The Condor Vol. 116 Iss. 4 (2014)
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