Geographic variation in Bar-headed Geese Anser indicus: connectivity of wintering areas and breeding grounds across a broad front
The connectivity and frequency of exchange between sub-populations of migratory birds is integral to understanding population dynamics over the entire species’ range. True geese are highly philopatric and acquire lifetime mates during the winter, suggesting that the number of distinct sub-populations may be related to the number of distinct wintering areas. In the Bar-headed Goose Anser indicus, a species found exclusively in Central Asia, the connectivity between breeding and wintering areas is not well known. Their migration includes crossing a broad front of the Himalaya Cordillera, a significant barrier to migration for most birds. Many Bar-headed Geese fly to breeding areas on the Tibetan-Qinghai Plateau (TQP), the highest plateau in the world. From 2005–2008, 60 Bar-headed Geese were captured and marked with satellite transmitters in Nepal (n = 2), India (n = 6), China (n = 29), and Mongolia (n = 23) to examine their migration and distribution. Distinct differences were observed in their migration corridors and timing of movements, including an apparent leap-frog migration pattern for geese from Mongolia. Measurements of geese from Mongolia were larger than their counterparts from China, providing some evidence of morphological differences. Alteration of habitats in China, including the warming effects of climate change on glaciers increasing runoff to TQP wetlands, may be changing goose migration patterns and timing. With the exception of one individual, all geese from Qinghai Lake, China wintered in the southern TQP near Lhasa, and their increasing numbers in that region may be related to the effects of climate change and agricultural development. Thus, our findings document both morphological and geographical variation in sub-populations of Bar-headed Geese, but their resilience to environmental change may be lost if migratory short-stopping results in larger congregations restricted to a smaller number of wintering areas.
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