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Concept: Branta


The impacts of hybridization on the process of speciation are manifold, leading to distinct patterns across the genome. Genetic differentiation accumulates in certain genomic regions, while divergence is hampered in other regions by homogenizing gene flow, resulting in a heterogeneous genomic landscape. A consequence of this heterogeneity is that genomes are mosaics of different gene histories that can be compared to unravel complex speciation and hybridization events. However, incomplete lineage sorting (often the outcome of rapid speciation) can result in similar patterns. New statistical techniques, such as the D-statistic and hybridization networks, can be applied to disentangle the contributions of hybridization and incomplete lineage sorting. We unravel patterns of hybridization and incomplete lineage sorting during and after the diversification of the True Geese (family Anatidae, tribe Anserini, genera Anser and Branta) using an exon-based hybridization network approach and taking advantage of discordant gene tree histories by re-sequencing all taxa of this clade. In addition, we determine the timing of introgression and reconstruct historical effective population sizes for all goose species to infer which demographic or biogeographic factors might explain the observed patterns of introgression.

Concepts: Gene, Genetics, Genome, Goose, Branta, Anser, Anatidae, Anserinae


This paper uses X-ray computed tomography to track the mechanical response of a vertebrate (Barnacle goose) long bone subjected to an axial compressive load, which is increased gradually until failure. A loading rig was mounted in an X-ray computed tomography system so that a time-lapse sequence of three-dimensional (3D) images of the bone’s internal (cancellous or trabecular) structure could be recorded during loading. Five distinct types of deformation mechanism were observed in the cancellous part of the bone. These were (i) cracking, (ii) thinning (iii) tearing of cell walls and struts, (iv) notch formation, (v) necking and (vi) buckling. The results highlight that bone experiences brittle (notch formation and cracking), ductile (thinning, tearing and necking) and elastic (buckling) modes of deformation. Progressive deformation, leading to cracking was studied in detail using digital image correlation. The resulting strain maps were consistent with mechanisms occurring at a finer-length scale. This paper is the first to capture time-lapse 3D images of a whole long bone subject to loading until failure. The results serve as a unique reference for researchers interested in how bone responds to loading. For those using computer modelling, the study not only provides qualitative information for verification and validation of their simulations but also highlights that constitutive models for bone need to take into account a number of different deformation mechanisms.

Concepts: Medical imaging, Radiography, Continuum mechanics, Computer graphics, Materials science, Branta, Verification and validation, Cackling Goose


Arctic amplification, the accelerated climate warming in the polar regions, is causing a more rapid advancement of the onset of spring in the Arctic than in temperate regions. Consequently, the arrival of many migratory birds in the Arctic is thought to become increasingly mismatched with the onset of local spring, consequently reducing individual fitness and potentially even population levels. We used a dynamic state variable model to study whether Arctic long-distance migrants can advance their migratory schedules under climate warming scenarios which include Arctic amplification, and whether such an advancement is constrained by fuel accumulation or the ability to anticipate climatic changes. Our model predicts that barnacle geese Branta leucopsis suffer from considerably reduced reproductive success with increasing Arctic amplification through mistimed arrival, when they cannot anticipate a more rapid progress of Arctic spring from their wintering grounds. When geese are able to anticipate a more rapid progress of Arctic spring, they are predicted to advance their spring arrival under Arctic amplification up to 44 days without any reproductive costs in terms of optimal condition or timing of breeding. Negative effects of mistimed arrival on reproduction are predicted to be somewhat mitigated by increasing summer length under warming in the Arctic, as late arriving geese can still breed successfully. We conclude that adaptation to Arctic amplification may rather be constrained by the (un)predictability of changes in the Arctic spring than by the time available for fuel accumulation. Social migrants like geese tend to have a high behavioural plasticity regarding stopover site choice and migration schedule, giving them the potential to adapt to future climate changes on their flyway. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Climate, Bird, Climate change, Arctic Circle, Branta, Canada Goose, Bird migration, Flyway


BACKGROUND: Theories of ageing predict a trade-off between metabolism, reproduction, and maintenance. Species with low investment in early reproduction are thus expected to be able to evolve more efficient maintenance and repair mechanisms, allowing for a longer potential life span (intrinsic longevity). The erosion of telomeres, the protective caps at the ends of linear chromosomes, plays an important role in cellular and organismal senescence, signalling the onset of age-related disease due to accumulation of unrepaired somatic damage. Using extensive longitudinal data from a long-term study of a natural population of barnacle geese Branta leucopsis, we investigated individual rates of telomere length changes over two years in 34 birds between 0 and 22 years of age, covering almost 80% of the species' lifespan. RESULTS: We show that telomeres in this long-lived bird are very well maintained, as theoretically expected, with an average loss rate of only 5 base pairs per year among adults. We thus found no significant relationship between change in telomere length and age. However, telomeres tended to shorten at a faster pace in juveniles compared to adults. For the first time, we demonstrate a faster telomere attrition rate in females compared to males. We found no correlation between telomere loss rate and adult survival or change in body mass. CONCLUSIONS: Our results add further support for a link between longevity and telomere maintenance, and highlight the complexities of telomere dynamics in natural populations.

Concepts: DNA, Senescence, Gerontology, Telomere, Branta, Geese, Cackling Goose, Barnacle Goose


Recent reviews identified the reliance on fecal or cloacal samples as a significant limitation hindering our understanding of the avian gastrointestinal (gut) microbiota and its function. We investigated the microbiota of the esophagus, duodenum, cecum, and colon of a wild urban population of Canada goose (Branta canadensis). From a population sample of 30 individuals, we sequenced the V4 region of the 16S SSU rRNA on an Illumina MiSeq and obtained 8,628,751 sequences with a median of 76,529 per sample. These sequences were assigned to 420 bacterial OTUs and a single archaeon. Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, and Bacteroidetes accounted for 90% of all sequences. Microbiotas from the four gut regions differed significantly in their richness, composition, and variability among individuals. Microbial communities of the esophagus were the most distinctive whereas those of the colon were the least distinctive, reflecting the physical downstream mixing of regional microbiotas. The downstream mixing of regional microbiotas was also responsible for the majority of observed co-occurrence patterns among microbial families. Our results indicate that fecal and cloacal samples inadequately represent the complex patterns of richness, composition, and variability of the gut microbiota and obscure patterns of co-occurrence of microbial lineages.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Canada, Goose, Branta, Canada Goose


Sound decisions on control actions for established invasive alien species (IAS) require information on ecological as well as socio-economic impact of the species and of its management. Cost-benefit analysis provides part of this information, yet has received relatively little attention in the scientific literature on IAS.

Concepts: Canada, Invasive species, Goose, Branta, Canada Goose, Anser, Cackling Goose, Hawaiian Goose


Phylogenetic incongruence can be caused by analytical shortcomings or can be the result of biological processes, such as hybridization, incomplete lineage sorting and gene duplication. Differentiation between these causes of incongruence is essential to unravel complex speciation and diversification events. The phylogeny of the True Geese (tribe Anserini, Anatidae, Anseriformes) was, until now, contentious, i.e., the phylogenetic relationships and the timing of divergence between the different goose species could not be fully resolved. We sequenced nineteen goose genomes (representing seventeen species of which three subspecies of the Brent Goose, Branta bernicla) and used an exon-based phylogenomic approach (41,736 exons, representing 5887 genes) to unravel the evolutionary history of this bird group. We thereby provide general guidance on the combination of whole genome evolutionary analyses and analytical tools for such cases where previous attempts to resolve the phylogenetic history of several taxa could not be unravelled. Identical topologies were obtained using either a concatenation (based upon an alignment of 6,630,626 base pairs) or a coalescent-based consensus method. Two major lineages, corresponding to the genera Anser and Branta, were strongly supported. Within the Branta lineage, the White-cheeked Geese form a well-supported sub-lineage that is sister to the Red-breasted Goose (Branta ruficollis). In addition, two main clades of Anser species could be identified, the White Geese and the Grey Geese. The results from the consensus method suggest that the diversification of the genus Anser is heavily influenced by rapid speciation and by hybridization, which may explain the failure of previous studies to resolve the phylogenetic relationships within this genus. The majority of speciation events took place in the late Pliocene and early Pleistocene (between 4 and 2millionyears ago), conceivably driven by a global cooling trend that led to the establishment of a circumpolar tundra belt and the emergence of temperate grasslands. Our approach will be a fruitful strategy for resolving many other complex evolutionary histories at the level of genera, species, and subspecies.

Concepts: Evolution, Species, Goose, Branta, Anser, Anatidae, Geese, Anserinae


Extensive ephemeral wetlands at Poyang Lake, created by dramatic seasonal changes in water level, constitute the main wintering site for migratory Anatidae in China. Reductions in wetland area during the last 15 years have led to proposals to build a Poyang Dam to retain high winter water levels within the lake. Changing the natural hydrological system will affect waterbirds dependent on water level changes for food availability and accessibility. We tracked two goose species with different feeding behaviors (greater white-fronted geese Anser albifrons [grazing species] and swan geese Anser cygnoides [tuber-feeding species]) during two winters with contrasting water levels (continuous recession in 2015; sustained high water in 2016, similar to those predicted post-Poyang Dam), investigating the effects of water level change on their habitat selection based on vegetation and elevation. In 2015, white-fronted geese extensively exploited sequentially created mudflats, feeding on short nutritious graminoid swards, while swan geese excavated substrates along the water edge for tubers. This critical dynamic ecotone successively exposes subaquatic food and supports early-stage graminoid growth during water level recession. During sustained high water levels in 2016, both species selected mudflats, but also to a greater degree of habitats with longer established seasonal graminoid swards because access to tubers and new graminoid growth was restricted under high-water conditions. Longer established graminoid swards offer less energetically profitable forage for both species. Substantial reduction in suitable habitat and confinement to less profitable forage by higher water levels is likely to reduce the ability of geese to accumulate sufficient fat stores for migration, with potential carryover effects on subsequent survival and reproduction. Our results suggest that high water levels in Poyang Lake should be retained during summer, but permitted to gradually recede, exposing new areas throughout winter to provide access for waterbirds from all feeding guilds.

Concepts: Wetland, Goose, Branta, Anser, Anatidae, Geese, Swan Goose, Anserinae


Low pathogenic avian influenza virus can mutate to a highly pathogenic strain that causes severe clinical signs in birds and humans. Migratory waterfowl, especially ducks, are considered the main hosts of low pathogenic avian influenza virus, but the role of geese in dispersing the virus over long-distances is still unclear. We collected throat and cloaca samples from three goose species, Bean goose (Anser fabalis), Barnacle goose (Branta leucopsis) and Greater white-fronted goose (Anser albifrons), from their breeding grounds, spring stopover sites, and wintering grounds. We tested if the geese were infected with low pathogenic avian influenza virus outside of their wintering grounds, and analysed the spatial and temporal patterns of infection prevalence on their wintering grounds. Our results show that geese were not infected before their arrival on wintering grounds. Barnacle geese and Greater white-fronted geese had low prevalence of infection just after their arrival on wintering grounds in the Netherlands, but the prevalence increased in successive months, and peaked after December. This suggests that migratory geese are exposed to the virus after their arrival on wintering grounds, indicating that migratory geese might not disperse low pathogenic avian influenza virus during autumn migration.

Concepts: Virus, Influenza, Bird, Transmission and infection of H5N1, Goose, Branta, Anser, Geese


1.Herbivorous birds are hypothesized to migrate in spring along a seasonal gradient of plant profitability towards their breeding grounds (green wave hypothesis). For Arctic-breeding species in particular, following highly profitable food is important, so that they can replenish resources along the way and arrive in optimal body condition to start breeding early. 2.We compared the timing of migratory movements of Arctic-breeding geese on different flyways to examine whether flyways differed in the predictability of spring conditions at stopovers, and whether this was reflected in the degree to which birds were following the green wave. 3.Barnacle geese (Branta leucopsis) were tracked with solar Argos/GPS PTTs from their wintering grounds to breeding sites in Greenland (N = 7), Svalbard (N = 21) and the Barents Sea (N = 12). The numerous stopover sites of all birds were combined into a set of 16 general stopover regions. 4.The predictability of climatic conditions along the flyways was calculated as the correlation and slope between onsets of spring at consecutive stopovers. These values differed between sites, mainly because of the presence or absence of ecological barriers. Goose arrival at stopovers was more closely tied to the local onset of spring when predictability was higher and when geese attempted breeding that year. 5.All birds arrived at early stopovers after the onset of spring and arrived at the breeding grounds before the onset of spring, thus overtaking the green wave. This is in accordance with patterns expected for capital breeders: first they must come into condition; at intermediate stopovers arrival with the food quality peak is important to stay in condition and at the breeding grounds early arrival is favoured so that hatching of young can coincide with the peak of food quality. 6.Our results suggest that a chain of correlations between climatic conditions at subsequent stopovers enables geese to closely track the green wave. However, the birds' precision of migratory timing seems uninfluenced by ecological barriers, indicating partly fixed migration schedules. These might become non-optimal due to climate warming and preclude accurate timing of long-distance migrants in the future. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Gradient, Climate, Bird, Copyright, Goose, Branta, Bird migration, Barents Sea