Threats to the population
The dramatic decrease of the breeding population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose is not due to disturbance of the breeding areas. The Lesser White-fronts still have the ability to breed enough offspring in order to maintain a solid number of birds under normal conditions. Studies have shown that the reproduction rate of Lesser White-fronts has been on a normal level compared to other arctic geese species.
The main reason for the alarming decline is the high hunting pressure during migration. Birds breeding in Lapland are migrating to Eastern Europe, the Black and Caspian Sea for the winter. On their long journey to the wintering grounds, a high number of Lesser Whitefronts are shot in spite of the fact that the species is a protected and non-quarry species throughout its range. But it is part of their natural behaviour that they join the closely related (Greater) White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) for migration. Bad luck for the Lesser Whitefronts that the large population of White-fronted Geese is the most frequently hunted goose species. So it happens that also the Lesser White-fronts are shot, as they are hard to distinguish from the White-fronts. Studies show that about 50% of the young geese and 10% of the adults marked in Norway as well as 16% of all and 23% of young birds marked in Russia were reported to be shot.
Effects on the population size
Sensibility of small populations
Another huge problem for the conservation of the Fennoscandian breeding population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose is the small population size. According recent estimates there are only less than 50 birds left. Populations as small as this one are extremely sensitive to any kind of exterior influences. Illnesses or a smaller reproduction rate due to higher predation pressure or bad weather conditions could easily lead to extinction of the whole population.
Furthermore the drastic decline of population numbers has led to a strong decrease of genetic diversity. Thus survival of the Fennoscandian population is directly threatened.
Besides it becomes increasingly difficult for the few remaining birds to find a suitable breeding partner within this small population. Due to this, the risk of inbreeding increases, which even further would increase the loss of genetic diversity. Eventually, the consequence is extinction of the population.
Effects on the population
Loss of suitable staging areas and winter grounds
Not only increased hunting pressure and sensitivity to exterior influences due to a small population size is threatening the Fennoscandian breeding population of the Lesser White-fronted Goose. Another threat is the disturbance of staging areas and wintering grounds of the species, along migratory routes in Eastern Europe or areas around the Caspian and the Black Sea. More and more wetlands are drained, rivers are canalised and natural grasslands are converted in agricultural, residential or industrial areas. Subsequently the Lesser White-fronted Geese have a decreasing number of undisturbed suitable areas for resting and feeding during migration and wintering.
Effects on the population
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