New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1996) 20(2): 127- 145

Fleshy fruits of indigenous and adventive plants in the diet of birds in forest remnants, Nelson, New Zealand

Research Article
Peter A. Williams  
Brian J. Karl  
  1. Manaaki Whenua, Landcare Research, Private Bag 6, Nelson, New Zealand

The relationship between fleshy-fruited indigenous species and adventive weeds in the diet of 500 mist-netted birds was studied in forest remnants of differing size and degree of modification. Fruit abundance Peaked in March and April, and most fruit was either red/orange or purple/black. The physical parameters of adventive and indigenous fruits were not significantly different. Six of the 15 passerine species netted are frugivores, and of those netted 77% had eaten fruit. They were divisible into three groups: endemic (bellbirds, Anthornis melanura; tuis, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), non-endemic but indigenous (silvereyes, Zosterops lateralis), and adventive (blackbirds, Turdus merula; song thrushes, T. philomelos; starlings, Sturnus vulgaris). Bird diets varied between the groups and according to fruit availability as determined by sires and seasons. Endemic birds ate the least adventive fruit; bellbirds ate mainly Podocarpus hallii and Coprosma robusta fruits at all sites. Tuis had a varied diet, including some adventive fruits. Silvereyes ate the widest range of indigenous and adventive fruits. Blackbirds and, to a smaller extent, song thrushes ate many of the same indigenous fruits as the other bird groups, but their diet included more adventive fruits, e.g., Berberis glaucocarpa. Starlings were caught only when they fed on Sambucus nigra, but they also ate a few indigenous fruits. There was little seasonal variation in bird numbers caught. Adventive species extended the seasonal availability of fruits into winter, particularly in the forest remnant closest to a town, which had the highest proportion of adventive fruits. Several weed species distributed mainly by non-endemic and adventive birds are forming new secondary vegetation. Some have large fruit crops which generally offer little food for endemic birds. Where fruiting weeds pre-empt sites that may have been occupied by native species, they create an inferior habitat for endemic birds. However, the non-endemic and adventive birds also disperse indigenous fruits into early successional vegetation, and the importance of their seed rain for conservation of biodiversity will therefore depend on the site.