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Brent geese Branta bernicla are high-arctic breeding birds that feed extensively on intertidal mudflats outside the breeding season, where they graze on eelgrass Zostera spec. Eelgrass beds are a restricted and endangered habitat around the world. After the decline of eelgrass beds in the Dutch Wadden Sea, the brent goose population initially collapsed, but recovered later due to conservation actions and a habitat-switch towards lower salt marsh vegetations and agricultural fields. Recently, the population has declined again due to a long series of poor breeding years. Brent geese were among the first migratory species for which it was shown that spring conditions in the temperate region carried over to breeding performance in the arctic. Recent evidence suggests that the quality of wintering and stopover sites may be vitally important to population processes in migrants. In this project, we aim to investigate the importance of non-breeding habitats, and eelgrass beds in particular, for brent goose population dynamics and individual fitness, relative to the importance of alternative habitats, the role of competition with the closely related barnacle goose Branta leucopsis and other factors.

Other consortium members prof. dr. H. Olff (Universiteit Groningen), prof. dr. W. Bouten and dr. J. Shamoun-Baranes (Universiteit van Amsterdam), dr. B.S. Ebbinge (Alterra)