Skip to main content

Diet selection by wintering Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus and the role of food availability


The Fennoscandian population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus (LWfG) is on the verge of extinction and migrates from northern Fennoscandia to Greece on a regular seasonal basis. For the first time, diet selection was investigated during two years at Kerkini Lake, a wintering site in Greece. The relative use of LWfG’s feeding habitats was systematically recorded by visual observations of the LWfG flocks. Food availability was measured by the relative cover of available vegetation types while the diet composition was determined by the microhistological analysis of droppings. In addition, we determined crude protein, neutral detergent fibre, acid detergent fibre and acid detergent lignin content of the most preferred plant species by LWfG and all vegetation categories that contributed to LWfG diet in the middle of the duration of their stay at Kerkini Lake and after their departure from the lake. LWfG feeding habitat was exclusively marshy grassland in water less than 5 cm deep up to 300–400 m away from the shore. LWfG selected a diverse number of plant species (33), however, grass made up the 58% of their diets. The most preferred plant species were Echinochloa crus-galli, Cyperus esculentus, Scirpus lacustris and Ranunculus sceleratus. LWfG departed from Kerkini Lake in mid-December to the Evros Delta (Thrace, eastern Greece), when either food availability falls in very low levels or flooding occurred in their main feeding habitat. Consequently, as long as food and habitat resources are available for LWfG, it is very likely that the birds will winter mainly at Kerkini Lake and not at the Evros Delta, which will contribute to further minimisation of the theoretical risk of accidental shooting of LWfG at the latter wintering habitat. Thus, future conservation actions should primarily focus on the grassland improvement at Kerkini Lake enhancing the availability of food resources for LWfG (mainly grasses) and the protection of the feeding habitat from flooding.

Corresponding author
*Author for correspondence; e-mail:
Hide All
Aarvak, T., Øien, I. J. and Nagy, S. (1996) The Lesser White fronted Goose monitoring programme. Annual report 1996. Klæbu, Norway: Norwegian Ornithological Society. (NOF Rapportserie report No. 7–1996).
Alipayo, D., Valdez, R., Holechek, J. L. and Cardenas, M. (1992) Evaluation of microhistological analysis for determining ruminant diet botanical composition. J. Range. Manage. 45: 148152.
Aloupi, M., Kazantzidis, S., Akriotis, T., Bantikou, E. and Hatzidaki, V.-O. (2015) Lesser White-fronted (Anser erythropus) and Greater White-fronted (A. albifrons) Geese wintering in Greek wetlands are not threatened by Pb through shot ingestion. Sci. Total Envir. 527–528: 279286.
AOAC (1990) Official method of analysis. Washington, DC: Association of Official Analytical Chemists.
Bartolomé, J., Franch, J., Gutman, M. and Seligman, N. G. (1995) Technical note: Physical factors that influence fecal analysis estimates of herbivore diets. J. Range Manage. 48: 267270.
Best, R. J. and Arcese, P. (2009) Exotic herbivores directly facilitate the exotic grasses they graze: mechanisms for an unexpected positive feedback between invaders. Oecologia 159: 139150.
BirdLife International (2013) Anser erythropus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>.
BirdLife Norway and WWF Finland (2016) Portal to the Lesser White-fronted Goose. The Fennoscandian Lesser White-fronted Goose project. <>.
Bos, D., Drent, R. H., Rubinigg, M. and Stahl, J. (2005) The relative importance of food biomass and quality for patch and habitat choice in Brent Geese Branta bernicla. Ardea 93: 516.
Cazacu, S., Rotsios, K. and Moshonas, G. (2014) Consumers’ purchase intentions towards Water Buffalo Milk Products (WBMPs) in the Greater Area of Thessaloniki, Greece. Procedia Econ. Finance 9: 407416.
Chudzińska, M. E., van Beest, F. M., Madsen, J. and Nabe-Nielsen, J. (2015) Using habitat selection theories to predict the spatiotemporal distribution of migratory birds during stopover–a case study of pink-footed geese Anser brachyrhynchus. Oikos 124: 851860.
Cong, P., Wang, X., Cao, L. and Fox, A. D. (2012) Within-winter shifts in Lesser White-fronted Geese Anser erythropus distribution at East Dongting Lake, China. Ardea 100: 511.
Cook, C. W. and Stubbendieck, J. (1986) Range research: basic problems and techniques. Colorado, USA: Society for Range Management.
Folmer, E. O., Olff, H. and Piersma, T. (2010) How well do food distributions predict spatial distributions of shorebirds with different degrees of self-organization? J. Anim. Ecol. 79: 747756.
Fox, A. D., Madsen, J., Boyd, H., Kuijken, E., Norriss, D. W., Tombre, I. M. and Stroud, D. A. (2005) Effects of agricultural change on abundance, fitness components and distribution of two arctic-nesting goose populations. Global Change Biol. 11: 881893.
Fox, A. D., Ebbinge, B. S., Mitchell, C., Heinicke, T., Aarvak, T., Colhoun, K., Clausen, P., Dereliev, S., Faragó, S., Koffijberg, K., Kruckenberg, H., Loonen, M. J. J. E., Madsen, J., Mooij, J., Musil, P., Nilsson, L., Pihl, S. and van der Jeugd, H. (2010) Current estimates of goose population sizes in western Europe, a gap analysis and an assessment of trends. Ornis Svec. 20: 115127.
Gill, R. B., Carpenter, L. H., Bartmann, R. M., Baker, D. L. and Schoonveld, G. G. (1983) Fecal analysis to estimate mule deer diets. J. Wildl. Manage. 47: 902915.
Gill, J. A., Watkinson, A. R. and Sutherland, W. J. (1997) Causes of the redistribution of Pink-footed Geese Anser brachyrhynchus in Britain. Ibis 139: 497503.
Goering, H. K. and van Soest, P. J. (1970) Forage fibre analyses (apparatus, reagents, procedures, and some applications). Washington, DC: Agric. Res. Serv., USDA. (Agriculture Handbook No. 379).
Holechek, J. L. and Gross, B. D. (1982a) Training needed for quantifying simulated diets from fragmented range plants. J. Range Manage. 35: 644647.
Holechek, J. L. and Gross, B. D. (1982b) Evaluation of different calculation procedures for microhistological analysis. J. Range Manage. 35: 721723.
Inger, R., Harrison, X. A., Ruxton, G. D., Newton, J., Colhoun, K., Gudmundsson, G. A., McElwaine, G., Pickford, M., Hodgson, D. and Bearhop, S. (2010) Carry-over effects reveal reproductive costs in a long-distance migrant. J. Anim. Ecol. 79: 974982.
Johnson, M. D. and Sherry, T. W. (2001) Effects of food availability on the distribution of migratory warblers among habitats in Jamaica. J. Anim. Ecol. 70: 546560.
Jones, T., Martin, K., Barov, B. and Nagy, S. (compilers). (2008) International Single Species Action Plan for the conservation of the Western Palearctic population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. Bonn, Germany: AEWA Technical Series No 36.
Karmiris, I., Kazantzidis, S. and Panagiotopoulou, M. (2009) A note on the diet of the Lesser White-fronted Goose wintering in the Evros Delta, Greece. Pp. 6064 in Tolvanen, P., Oien, I. J. and Ruokolainen, K. eds. Conservation of Lesser White-fronted goose on the European migration route. Final report of the EU LIFE Nature project 2005–2009. WWF Finland report 27 and NOF Rapportserie report No 1 -2009.
Karmiris, I., Platis, P., Kazantzidis, S. and Papachristou, T. G. (2016a) Habitat use by free grazing water buffaloes at the Kerkini Lake. Options Méditerranéennes 114: 151154.
Karmiris, I., Platis, P., Kazantzidis, S. and Papachristou, T. G. (2016b) Cereals attract wild avian herbivores in wet grasslands – Implications for range management. Options Méditerranéennes 114: 237240.
Kazantzidis, S. and Naziridis, T., compilers. (1999) National Action plan of the Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus Linnaeus, 1758). Athens, Greece: WWF Greece, Hellenic Ornithological Society, Society for the Protection of Prespa. (LIFE Nature project B4–3200/96/499).
Kazantzidis, S., Vasiliadis, I., Ilias, V. and Makriyianni, E. (2015) Direct and indirect impact assessment of hunting activities on the wintering Lesser White-fronted Goose (Anser erythropus), in Evros Delta, Greece. Final Report of the LIFE Nature Project: LIFE10 NAT/GR/000638 “Safeguarding the Lesser White-fronted Goose Fennoscandian population in key wintering and staging sites within the European flyway”. Thessaloniki, Greece: Hellenic Agricultural Organization “DEMETER” – Forest Research Institute. (In Greek with English summary).
Krebs, C. J. (1999) Ecological methodology. California, USA: Addison-Welsey Educational Publishers.
Legakis, A. and Maragou, P. (2009) The Red Data Book of Threatened Animal Species of Greece. Athens, Greece: Hellenic Zoological Society.
Leslie, D. M. Jr., Vavra, M., Starkey, E. E. and Slater, R. C. (1983) Correcting for differential digestibility in microhistological analysis involving common coastal forages of the Pacific Northwest. J. Range Manage. 36: 730732.
Litvaitis, J. A., Titus, K. and Anderson, E. M. (1996) Measuring vertebrate use of terrestrial habitats and foods. Pp. 254274 in Bookhout, T. A. ed. Research and management techniques for wildlife and habitats. Bethesda, Maryland, USA: The Wildlife Society.
Lorentsen, S-H and Spjøtvoll, Ø. (1990) Notes on the food choice of breeding Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus. Fauna Norv. Ser. C., Cinclus 13: 8788.
Lorentsen, S.-H., Øien, I. J. and Aarvak, T. (1998) Migration of Fennoscandian Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus mapped by satellite telemetry. Biol. Conserv. 84: 4752.
Lukács, B. A., Sramkó, G. and Molnár, A. (2013) Plant diversity and conservation value of continental temporary pools. Biol. Conserv. 158: 393400.
Markkola, J., Niemelä, M. and Rytkonen, S. (2003) Diet selection of lesser white-fronted geese Anser eruthropus at a spring staging area. Ecography 26: 705714.
Mohammad, A. G., Pieper, R. D., Wallace, J. D., Holechek, J. L. and Murray, L. W. (1995) Comparison of fecal analysis and rumen evacuation techniques for sampling diet botanical composition of grazing cattle. J. Range Manage. 48: 202205.
Morrissette, M., Bêty, J., Gauthier, G., Reed, A. and Lefebvre, J. (2010) Climate, trophic interactions, density dependence and carry-over effects on the population productivity of a migratory Arctic herbivorous bird. Oikos 119: 11811191.
Newton, I. (1998) Population limitation in birds. San Diego, USA: Academic Press.
Niemelä, M. and Markkola, J. (1997) Diet selection of the Lesser white-fronted geese Anser erythropus in the spring staging area of Tömppa seashore meadow, Hailuoto, Finland. Pp. 4344 in Tolvanen, P., Ruokolainen, K., Markkola, J. and Karvonen, R.eds. Finnish Lesser White-fronted Goose Conservation project. Annual Report 1997. Helsinki: WWF Finland. (Report No. 9).
Owen, M. (1990) The damage-conservation interface illustrated by geese. Ibis 132: 238252.
Owen, M. and Black, J. M. (1990) Waterfowl ecology. New York, USA: Chapman & Hall.
Pál, R., Pinke, G., Oláh, E., Csiky, J. and Koltai, J. P. (2006) Untersuchung der Unkrautvegetation auf überstauten Ackerflächen in Süd-West Ungarn. J. Plant Dis. Prot. Spec. Issue XX: 567576.
Panagiotopoulou, M., Tsougrakis, Y., Naziridis, T. and Makriyanni, E. (2009) Monitoring of Lesser White-fronted Geese in Greece. Pp. 6064 in Tolvanen, P., Oien, I. J. and Ruokolainen, K. eds. Conservation of Lesser White-fronted goose on the European migration route. Final report of the EU LIFE Nature project 2005–2009. WWF Finland report 27 and NOF Rapportserie report No 1 -2009.
Paola, V. S., Cid, M. S., Brizuela, M. A. and Ferri, C. M. (2005) Microhistological estimation of grass leaf blade percentages in pastures and diets. Rangel. Ecol. Manage. 58: 207214.
Percival, S. M. (1993) The effects of reseeding, fertilizer application and disturbance on the use of grasslands by barnacle geese, and the implications for refuge management. J. Appl. Ecol. 30: 437443.
Sedinger, J. S. (1997) Adaptations to and consequences of an herbivorous diet in grouse and waterfowl. Condor 99: 314326.
Soininen, E. M., Hübner, C. E. and Jónsdóttir, I. S. (2010) Food selection by barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) in an Arctic pre-breeding area. Polar Res. 29: 404412.
Stroh, H. G. (2006) Contribution to the ephemeral wetland vegetation along riverbanks and lakeshores of Western Thrace (NE Greece). Tuexenia 26: 353388.
Summers, R. W., Underhill, L. G., Howells, R. J., Vickery, J. A. and Jones, R. P. (1996) Phenology of migration and use of wintering sites by the increasing population of dark-bellied brent geese, Branta bernicla bernicla. J. Zool. 239: 197208.
Tsougrakis, Y., Panagiotopoulou, M. and Makriyanni, E. (2009) Public awareness campaign for the Lesser White-fronted Goose in Greece. Pp. 6567 in Tolvanen, P., Oien, I. J. and Ruokolainen, K. eds. Conservation of Lesser White-fronted goose on the European migration route. Final report of the EU LIFE Nature project 2005-2009. WWF Finland report 27 and NOF Rapportserie report No 1 – 2009.
van der Wal, R., van Wijnen, H., van Wieren, S., Beucher, O. and Bos, D. (2000) On facilitation between herbivores: How brent geese profit from brown hares. Ecology 81: 969980.
Vangeluwe, D. (2004) The entire European breeding population of Lesser White-fronted Goose wintering in the Evros Delta, Greece? Pp. 5354 in Aarvak, T. and Timonen, S. eds. Fennoscandian Lesser White-fronted Goose conservation project. Report 2001–2003. WWF Finland Report No20 & Norwegian Ornithological Society, NOF Rapportserie report No. 1-2004.
van Soest, P. J., Robertson, J. B. and Lewis, B. A. (1991) Methods for dietary fiber, neutral detergent fiber and non-starch polysaccharides in relation to animal nutrition. J. Dairy Sci. 74: 35833597.
Vickery, J. A. and Gill, J. A. (1999) Managing grassland for wild geese in Britain: a review. Biol. Conserv. 89: 93106.
Wang, X., Fox, A. D., Cong, P., Barter, M. and Cao, L. (2012) Changes in the distribution and abundance of wintering Lesser White-fronted Geese Anser erythropus in eastern China. Bird Conserv. Int. 22: 128134.
Wang, X., Fox, A. D., Cong, P. and Cao, L. (2013) Food constraints explain the restricted distribution of wintering Lesser White-fronted Geese Anser erythropus in China. Ibis 155: 576592.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Bird Conservation International
  • ISSN: 0959-2709
  • EISSN: 1474-0001
  • URL: /core/journals/bird-conservation-international
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Karmiris supplementary material
Table S1

 Word (34 KB)
34 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed