Recently introduced mammalian predators have had devastating consequences for biotas of archipelagos that were isolated from mammals over evolutionary time. However, understanding which antipredator mechanisms are lost through relaxed selection, and how they influence the ability of prey to respond to novel predatory threats, is limited. The varying effects on native lizard populations of the relatively recent and patchy history of mammalian introductions to New Zealand’s islands provide an opportunity to examine the consequences of relaxed selection.
Invasive rats can be capable swimmers, able to cross substantial water channels of hundreds of metres to colonise islands. This dispersal capability puts at risk islands close enough to infested areas for rats to reach unassisted. When reinvasion rates are high, biosecurity surveillance on islands might be supported by source population control to prevent re-establishment. However, biosecurity surveillance can only detect reinvading rats when they arrive and the source of reinvading rats might remain unknown.
Big South Cape Island (Taukihepa) is a 1040 ha island, 1.5 km from the southwest coast of Stewart Island/Rakiura, New Zealand. This island was rat-free until the incursion of ship rats (Rattus rattus) in, or shortly before, 1963, suspected to have been accidentally introduced via local fishing boats that moored at the island with ropes to the shore, and were used to transport the mutton birders to the island.
New Zealand’s offshore and outlying islands have long been a focus of conservation biology as sites