Magpie Goose project takes flight

A Hort innovation project utilising mango grower levies has commenced. The project, titled “ Understanding and mitigating the aggregative behaviour of the Magpie Goose (Anseranas semipalmata) on mango orchards in the Northern Territory” commenced earlier this year. Charles Darwin University researchers Mike Lawes and Hamish Campbell are leading the project with PhD student Amélie Corriveau.

A project reference committee has been formed and an introductory grower workshop was held Acacia Hills farm during  April.

Amélie has provide the following description of the project:

The Magpie Goose is a native waterbird species and resident breeder of northern Australia. Over the last decade mango growers in the Top End have reported Magpie Geese aggregating in ever-increasing numbers on mango orchards. The geese cause damage to fruits, trees, and irrigation equipment, and cost the industry millions of dollars each year. The impact of birds on agriculture is a global phenomenon involving a range of different species and crops. A plethora of devices and methods have been developed to reduce bird density on agricultural lands and mitigate damage. While adverse stimuli are often successful in the short-term, crop-raiding birds quickly become habituated to repeated stimuli ((Tombre et al. 2013; Simonsen et al. 2015).

Understanding the definitive drivers of bird-crop interaction, and the provision of alternative resources and adaptive management strategies, has been demonstrated to provide efficient long-term solutions to crop-raiding birds (Madsen et al. 2014).

Magpie Goose populations have declined drastically in several southern regions of Australia due to habitat loss, increased recreational hunting, and use of lethal pest control measures to protect crops ((Whitehead 1998). While studies on Magpie Goose demographics, movement, home range, and habitat use have been conducted in the past (Bayliss 1989; Bayliss and Yeomans 1990a; Bayliss and Yeomans 1990b; Whitehead 1998; Brook and Whitehead 2005; Traill et al. 2010), none have specifically addressed the conflict between mango growers and the study species. The overall goal of this project is to provide baseline knowledge for the development of sustainable management strategies for Magpie Geese on mango orchards that align with the gained understanding of the population and behavioural dynamics of the species.

To achieve this, we require detailed information on Magpie goose spatial movement, habitat use, and diet. Research findings will not only inform management strategies for agricultural conflicts, but they will also provide critical insight on long-term population dynamics and ecosystem health to prevent similar declines as observed for southern populations.

This study has three core components:

  1. Understand Magpie Goose habitat use, local movements within and between orchards, and seasonal movements between mango orchards and wetlands
  2. Investigate Magpie Goose food resources and diet
  3. Assess the cost-effectiveness, and impact on bird abundance and movement, of routinely used management techniques in the NT

This research has practical implications for the long-term management of Magpie Geese in the Northern Territory. Key research outputs will include information on abundance of geese using mango orchards, movement ecology at local- and regional- scales, use of the Magpie Goose native wetland habitat, and the development of innovative methods for reducing the abundance of geese on orchards and their impact on fruit production.

Amélie Corriveau, PhD student

Hamish Campbell, Researcher