Individually tracked geese follow the green wave during spring migration

R.E. van Wijk, A. Kölzsch, H. Kruckenberg, B.S. Ebbinge, G.J.D.M. Müskens, B.A. Nolet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

82 Citations (Scopus)


Many migratory herbivores seem to follow the flush of plant growth during migration in order to acquire the most nutrient-rich plants. This has also been hypothesized for arctic-breeding geese, but so far no test of this so-called green wave hypothesis has been performed at the individual level. During four years, a total of 30 greater white-fronted geese Anser albifrons albifrons was tracked using GPS transmitters, of which 13 yielded complete spring migration tracks. From those birds we defined stopover sites and related the date of arrival at each of these stopovers to temperature sum (growing degree days, GDD), snow cover, accumulated photoperiod and latitude. We found that geese arrived at spring stopovers close to the peak in GDD jerk; the ‘jerk’ is the third derivative, or the rate of change in acceleration, and GDD jerk maxima therefore represent the highest acceleration of daily temperature per site. Day of snow melt also correlated well with the observed arrival of the geese. Factors not closely related to onset of spring, i.e. accumulated photoperiod and latitude, yielded poorer fits. A comparison with published data revealed that the GDD jerk occurs 1–2 weeks earlier than the onset of spring derived from NDVI, and probably represents the very start of spring growth. Our data therefore suggest that white-fronted geese track the front of the green wave in spring
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-664
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • goose branta-leucopsis
  • vegetation index
  • greylag geese
  • green-wave
  • climate
  • phenology
  • onset
  • ecology
  • birds
  • patch

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