New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2003) 27(2): 115- 123

Comparing methods for assessing mortality impacts of an aerial 1080 pest control operation on tomtits (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) in Tongariro

Research Article
Ian M. Westbrooke 1,*
Nicola D. Etheridge 2
Ralph G. Powlesland 3
  1. Science and Research Unit, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 13 049, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. Tongariro/Taupo Conservancy, Department of Conservation, Private Bag, Turangi, New Zealand
  3. Science and Research Unit, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 10 420, Wellington, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

This study aimed to estimate the level of mortality of North Island tomtits (Petroica macrocephala toitoi) during an aerial 1080 possum poisoning operation in Tongariro Forest, New Zealand, and to evaluate transect-based alternatives to banding for monitoring tomtit populations. The operation used 12 g toxic (1080 at 0.15% weight/weight) cereal baits sown at 3 kg/ha. Transects were established at three neighbouring sites; two within the 1080 poison area, and one outside. The re-sighting of 14 out of 15 banded male tomtits at one site within the 1080 operation indicated that mortality was low. This was backed up by results from a before-after-control-impact (BACI) design to analyse density estimates from distance sampling along transects. We analysed the change in counts of territorial males before and after the operation based on the same transect surveys. This also showed little impact of poisoning on tomtits, and indicated that loss rates greater than 8.4% due to 1080 were incompatible with the data (95% one-sided confidence bound). Counts of territorial males gave a much tighter confidence bound than the banding or distance sampling results. Of the techniques applied, the counting of territorial males appears to have the most promise for providing high-precision estimates of short-term impacts, by taking full advantage of the territorial habits of male tomtits in spring. However, distance sampling shows potential for providing the basis for longer-term monitoring of tomtit populations. The transect-based approaches involved substantially fewer resources than banding for estimating short-term impacts, and offer a considerably less-intensive means of longer-term monitoring of tomtits.