Extrapolating herbivore-induced carbon loss across an arctic landscape

James D. M. Speed, S. J. Woodin, H. Tommervik, R. van der Wal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


A high proportion of the global soil carbon stock is stored in tundra soils. However, populations of arctic-breeding migratory geese including pink-footed geese, Anser brachyrhynchus, are increasing due to agricultural changes and conservation measures in their wintering grounds. Foraging by these geese, which is widespread in extent, reduces the quantity of carbon stored in arctic tundra ecosystems. Here, the potential carbon loss caused by foraging pink-footed geese is modelled across the high-arctic archipelago of Svalbard, combining field experiments, habitat maps and published spatial models of foraging. The carbon loss caused by foraging geese was estimated three growing seasons following perturbation allowing for some recovery to take place. The carbon loss caused by 1-year worth of grubbing was estimated to be 1,700 tonnes, or 37 kg per goose. A total of over 340,000 tonnes of carbon could be affected given an unlimited increase in goose population. Estimated losses were mostly from wetter habitats, which are both carbon rich and highly selected for by foraging geese. The across-landscape carbon loss caused by geese is not great in magnitude in comparison to expected climate-driven carbon losses; however, it is locally severe, and demonstrates how migratory connectivity links processes, such as agricultural change and conservation measures in temperate Europe with carbon dynamics in the high arctic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)789-797
Number of pages9
JournalPolar Biology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2010


  • anser brachyrhynchus
  • carbon stock
  • moss
  • soil
  • Svalbard
  • tundra
  • vegetation


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