New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1994) 18(1): 11- 18

Range and Diet of Stoats (Mustela erminea) in a New Zealand Beech Forest

Research Article
Elaine C. Murphy 1
John E. Dowding 2
  1. Department of Conservation, Private Bag 68 908, Newton, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. P.O. Box 36-559, Northcote, Auckland 9, New Zealand

Home range and diet of stoats inhabiting beech forest were examined by trapping and radio-tracking. Eleven stoats (6 female, 5 male) were fitted with radio-transmitters. Minimum home ranges of five females averaged 124 ± 21 ha and of four males 206 ± 73 ha. Range lengths of females averaged 2.3 ± 0.3 km and of males 4.0 ± 0.9 km. These differences were not statistically significant. Adult female stoats appeared to have mutually exclusive home ranges. Two females and one male had home ranges that were bisected by the Eglinton River. All three crossed the river regularly and could only have done so by swimming. Bird remains were found in 54% of stoat guts and scats examined, lagomorphs in 33%, and invertebrates in 34%. Australian brushtail possum remains were found in 11% of samples overall, but only in guts and scats from male stoats. A road through the study area affected the behaviour of stoats. Females avoided the road but males preferred it and were found scavenging road-kills, which may explain why they are more frequently found as road-kills themselves. In most years, New Zealand beech forest may be marginal habitat for stoats. No breeding was detected in the year of our study but there had been high productivity in the previous season. Stoats probably survive in this habitat because they are flexible in their diet and because their breeding biology allows them to respond rapidly to a sudden increase in food availability.