Studies in the Canadian Arctic show dramatic effects of increased goose grazing on vegetation structure and soil conditions, but little is known of the role of goose grazing in the European Arctic. We focused on how geese might affect plant recruitment via effects on seed production and soil seed bank in High Arctic Svalbard. Experimental grazing by captive Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis (Bechstein, 1803)) decreased flower densities both at normal and at high grazing pressure. Geese showed a clear preference for reproductive rather than vegetative shoots. Soil samples collected inside and outside 7-year-old exclosures in an intensively goose-grazed area revealed significant effects on the germinable soil seed bank. The density of viable seeds in the top soil layer inside exclosures was six times higher than in grazed plots. Lower densities of viable seeds occurred in the basal than in the top layer but there was no difference in basal layer seed density between exclosed and grazed plots. This study shows that geese have strong effects on floral abundance and consequently on the seed bank. We argue that goose grazing in these systems influences the potential for recovery after a disturbance event and thus the long-term plant species diversity and dynamics.
- coastal marsh