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Concept: Geese


In this study, we characterized for the first time the gut microbiota of Greylag geese (Anser anser) using high-throughput 16S rRNA gene sequencing technology. The results showed that the phyla Firmicutes (78.55%), Fusobacteria (9.38%), Proteobacteria (7.55%), Bacteroidetes (1.82%), Cyanobacteria (1.44%), and Actinobacteria (0.61%) dominated the gut microbial communities in the Greylag geese. Then, the variations of gut microbial community structures and functions among the three geese species, Greylag geese, Bar-headed geese (Anser indicus), and Swan geese (Anser cygnoides), were explored. The greatest gut microbial diversity was found in Bar-headed geese group, while other two groups had the least. The dominant bacterial phyla across all samples were Firmicutes and Proteobacteria, but several characteristic bacterial phyla and genera associated with each group were also detected. At all taxonomic levels, the microbial community structure of Swan geese was different from those of Greylag geese and Bar-headed geese, whereas the latter two groups were less different. Functional KEGG categories and pathways associated with carbohydrate metabolism, energy metabolism, and amino acid metabolism were differentially expressed among different geese species. Taken together, this study could provide valuable information to the vast, and yet little explored, research field of wild birds gut microbiome.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Goose, Anser, Geese


The physiological and biomechanical requirements of flight at high altitude have been the subject of much interest. Here, we uncover a steep relation between heart rate and wingbeat frequency (raised to the exponent 3.5) and estimated metabolic power and wingbeat frequency (exponent 7) of migratory bar-headed geese. Flight costs increase more rapidly than anticipated as air density declines, which overturns prevailing expectations that this species should maintain high-altitude flight when traversing the Himalayas. Instead, a “roller coaster” strategy, of tracking the underlying terrain and discarding large altitude gains only to recoup them later in the flight with occasional benefits from orographic lift, is shown to be energetically advantageous for flights over the Himalayas.

Concepts: Energy, Force, Wing, Anser, Geese, Helicopter, Bar-headed Goose, Glider aircraft


Black sparrowhawks (Accipiter melanoleucus) recently colonised the Cape Peninsula, South Africa, where the species faces competition for their nest sites from Egyptian geese (Alopochen aegyptiaca) which frequently usurp black sparrowhawk nests. In this paper, we test the hypothesis that multiple nest building by black sparrowhawks is a strategy to cope with this competitor, based on a 14-year long term data set.

Concepts: Accipiter, Goose, Geese, Shelduck, Egyptian Goose, Alopochen, Black Goshawk


While bar-headed geese are renowned for migration at high altitude over the Himalayas, previous work on captive birds suggested that these geese are unable to maintain rates of oxygen consumption while running in severely hypoxic conditions. To investigate this paradox, we re-examined the running performance and heart rates of bar-headed geese and barnacle geese (a low altitude species) during exercise in hypoxia. Bar-headed geese (n = 7) were able to run at maximum speeds (determined in normoxia) for 15 minutes in severe hypoxia (7% O2; simulating the hypoxia at 8500 m) with mean heart rates of 466±8 beats min-1. Barnacle geese (n = 10), on the other hand, were unable to complete similar trials in severe hypoxia and their mean heart rate (316 beats.min-1) was significantly lower than bar-headed geese. In bar-headed geese, partial pressures of oxygen and carbon dioxide in both arterial and mixed venous blood were significantly lower during hypoxia than normoxia, both at rest and while running. However, measurements of blood lactate in bar-headed geese suggested that anaerobic metabolism was not a major energy source during running in hypoxia. We combined these data with values taken from the literature to estimate (i) oxygen supply, using the Fick equation and (ii) oxygen demand using aerodynamic theory for bar-headed geese flying aerobically, and under their own power, at altitude. This analysis predicts that the maximum altitude at which geese can transport enough oxygen to fly without environmental assistance ranges from 6,800 m to 8,900 m altitude, depending on the parameters used in the model but that such flights should be rare.

Concepts: Oxygen, Carbon dioxide, Blood, Vein, Hypoxia, Venous blood, Partial pressure, Geese


The unusually high quality of census data for large waterbirds in Europe facilitates the study of how population change varies across a broad geographical range and relates to global change. The wintering population of the greylag goose Anser anser in the Atlantic flyway spanning between Sweden and Spain has increased from 120 000 to 610 000 individuals over the past three decades, and expanded its wintering range northwards. Although population sizes recorded in January have increased in all seven countries in the wintering range, we found a pronounced northwards latitudinal effect in which the rate of increase is higher at greater latitudes, causing a constant shift in the centre of gravity for the spatial distribution of wintering geese. Local winter temperatures have a strong influence on goose numbers but in a manner that is also dependent on latitude, with the partial effect of temperature (while controlling for the increasing population trend between years) being negative at the south end and positive at the north end of the flyway. Contrary to assumptions in the literature, the expansion of crops exploited by greylag geese has made little contribution to the increases in population size. Only in one case (expansion of winter cereals in Denmark) did we find evidence of an effect of changing land use. The expanding and shifting greylag population is likely to have increasing impacts on habitats in northern Europe during the course of this century.

Concepts: Population ecology, Anser, Geese, Greylag Goose


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


Blood parameters such as haematocrit or leucocyte counts are indicators of immune status and health, which can be affected, in a complex way, by exogenous as well as endogenous factors. Additionally, social context is known to be among the most potent stressors in group living individuals, therefore potentially influencing haematological parameters. However, with few exceptions, this potential causal relationship received only moderate scientific attention.

Concepts: Blood, Anser, Geese, Greylag 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


Bar-headed goose (Anser indicus), a species endemic to Asia, has become one of the most popular species in recent years for rare bird breeding industries in several provinces of China. There has been no information on the gut metagenome configuration in both wild and artificially reared Bar-headed geese, even though the importance of gut microbiome in vertebrate nutrient and energy metabolism, immune homeostasis and reproduction is widely acknowledged. In this study, metagenomic methods have been used to describe the microbial community structure and composition of functional genes associated with both wild and artificially reared Bar-headed goose. Taxonomic analyses revealed that Firmicutes, Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria and Bacteroidetes were the four most abundant phyla in the gut of Bar-headed geese. Bacteroidetes were significantly abundant in the artificially reared group compared to wild group. Through functional profiling, we found that artificially reared Bar-headed geese had higher bacterial gene content related to carbohydrate transport and metabolism, energy metabolism and coenzyme transport, and metabolism. A comprehensive gene catalog of Bar-headed geese metagenome was built, and the metabolism of carbohydrate, amino acid, nucleotide, and energy were found to be the four most abundant categories. These results create a baseline for future Bar-headed goose microbiology research, and make an original contribution to the artificial rearing of this bird.

Concepts: Bacteria, Metabolism, Organism, Microbiology, Anser, Geese, Bar-headed Goose


Microorganisms in vertebrate guts have been recognized as important symbionts influencing host life. However, it remains unclear about the gut microbiota in long-distance migratory Anseriformes herbivores, which could be functionally important for these wetland-dependent animals. We collected faeces of the greater white-fronted goose (GWFG), bean goose (BG) and swan goose (SG) from Shengjin Lake (SJL) and Poyang Lake (PYL) in the Yangtze River Floodplain, China. High-throughput sequencing of 16S rRNA V4 region was employed to depict the composition and structure of geese gut microbiota during wintering period. The dominant bacterial phyla across all samples were Firmicutes, Proteobacteria and Actinobacteria, but significant variations were detected among different goose species and sampling sites, in terms of α diversity, community structures and microbial interactions. We found a significant correlation between diet and the microbial community structure in GWFG-SJL samples. These results demonstrated that host species and diet are potential drivers of goose gut microbiota assemblies. Despite these variations, functions of geese gut microbiota were similar, with great abundances of potential genes involved in nutrient metabolism. This preliminary study would be valuable for future, exhaustive investigations of geese gut microbiota and their interactions with host.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Gut flora, Microbiology, Bird, Goose, Anser, Geese