Ecology and management of South Island beech forests: Trends in red deer (Cervus elaphus) populations in Westland forests.
We examined possum trapping data collected from 1945 to 1989 in the Pararaki catchment to assess whether there was any evidence for a major natural decline in possum numbers several decades after colonisation and whether the population has subsequently shown any long-term trend in abundance. The catchment was probably colonised by possums around 1915-20. We found evidence for a major decline (c. 80%) in possum numbers between 1945 and 1965. There was no significant trend in our trap catches from 1965 to 1976, but in 1977 there was a further abrupt decline.
The impact of browsing by introduced brushtail possums on mixed beech—broadleaved forests in South Westland was estimated from the amount of conspicuous canopy dieback present in 1989- 1990. Aerial and ground-based reconnaissance in all catchments indicated most canopies (84%) were intact. The remaining 16% of canopies were affected by conspicuous dieback, principally of southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata) and/or fuchsia (Fuchsia excorticata).
Plant species preferences of birds were determined by comparing the proportional bird use of plant species during direct observations with the proportions of plant species present on point-height intercepts in lowland rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) forest in North Okarito, Westland. Plant species and bird use of plant species were divided into 5 m height classes, and rimu trees were divided into four age classes (sapling, pole, mature, and old).
The abundance of birds in three different-aged stands (young, mature, and old) was examined at North Okarito, a lowland rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) forest in Westland, using 5-minute counts, transect counts, and mist-netting. Most of New Zealand's common forest bird species were present in the study area, with relatively high numbers of brown creeper (Mohoua novaeseelandiae) and New Zealand robin (Petroica australis), and low numbers of kaka (Nestor meridionalis) and yellow- crowned parakeet (Cyanoramphus auriceps).
The amount of conspicuous canopy dieback in all central Westland southern rata-kamahi forests east of the Alpine Fault, between 500 m altitude and treeline, was assessed and mapped from aerial photographs taken in 1984-85 and verified by aerial reconnaissance of selected areas in 1988. At least 20% of all canopy trees, predominantly southern rata (Metrosideros umbellata) and Hall's totara (Podocarpus hallii), were dead in 1984-85.
Population size and structure of 52 isolated Nothofagus fusca stands were investigated in the lower Otira Valley, 3-6 km from a major population centre in the upper Taramakau catchment. The approximate age of N. fusca pioneer trees, estimated from partial increment cores and calculations based on diameter growth rates, indicated that nearly all isolated stands originated after 1600 AD, predominantly during the periods 1600-1760 AD and 1865-1910 AD.
Scattered small stands of Nothofagus truncata occur in the upper Taramakau catchment, Arthur's Pass National Park, beyond the previously assumed range of the species in north Westland. Restricted to older soils on stable north to north-west slopes, the N. truncata stands are surrounded by N. fusca dominated forest and their upper altitudinal limits at 370-500 m border N.fusca-N. menziesii or N. solandri: var. cliffortioides forest.
Increased dieback in Westland rata (Metrosideros umbellata)-kamahi (Weinmannia racemosa) forests has been linked to the build-up of populations of the Australian brush-tailed possum (Trichosurus vulpecula). Within these forests young even-aged stands are observed to be more resilient to dieback than older stands. The effect of possum browsing on individual rata trees was related to the level of defoliation. Trees which had been not or only lightly browsed maintained intact canopies.
The diet of brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula Kerr) in mixed hardwood forests on a central Westland hillside is described from analysis of plant cuticle fragments and seeds in their faeces. Faeces were collected monthly for 2.25 years from animals live-trapped from low altitude forest/ pasture margins through to high altitude alpine shrublands. The diet included forest and pasture foliage, buds, and fruits of over 100 species, although most were eaten infrequently.