New Zealand Journal of Ecology (1998) 22(1): 65- 70

Lagomorph abundance around yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) colonies, South Island, New Zealand

Research Article
H. Moller 1,*
R. Keedwell 1,3
H. Ratz 1
L. Bruce 1,4
  1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. Present address: Department of Conservation, Private Bag, Twizel, New Zealand
  3. Present address: 24B Norfolk Rise, Waiuku, South Auckland, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Predation of yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) chicks may be reduced by removing stock around penguin breeding sites because long grass may reduce lagomorph abundance and hence small mammal predators. This study tests this hypothesis in the South Island, New Zealand. The abundance of lagomorph faeces (mainly rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, but some European hare Lepus europaeus) was used as an index of relative abundance of lagomorphs at 16 penguin breeding sites in winter 1991 and 37 sites in 1992/93. There was no evidence that lagomorph pellet abundance was reduced where vegetation was ungrazed. Lagomorph sign was widespread throughout ungrazed areas indicating that the entire ungrazed area and not merely the edge was used by lagomorphs. Lagomorph pellet abundance was higher on sand dunes than elsewhere. Retirement from grazing by stock may help protect and provide nesting habitat for penguins, but does not decrease lagomorph abundance close to nesting sites. Iris not yet known whether high lagomorph abundance leads to increased or decreased predation on penguin chicks. The habitat should not be modified ostensibly to reduce lagomorph abundance until the effect on predation is known.