New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2004) 28(1): 19- 33

Diet and impacts of brushtail possum populations across an invasion front in South Westland, New Zealand

Research Article
P. J. Sweetapple 1
K. W. Fraser 1
P. I. Knightbridge 2
  1. Landcare Research, P.O. Box 69, Lincoln 8152, New Zealand
  2. Department of Conservation, Private Bag 701, Hokitika, New Zealand

Impact of the irruptive fluctuation in abundance of brushtail possum populations since their initial colonisation was investigated in the forests of South Westland, New Zealand. Possum abundance, fecundity, and diet, the condition of common possum-palatable tree species, and the abundance of common forest birds were measured at three sites occupied by possums for c. 10, 20, and 30 years. Possum densities were highest at the site where possums had been present for c. 20 years. Possum fecundity was higher at the site they had recently colonised than at the two sites where they had been present for c. 20–30 years. Diet of possums where they had recently colonised was dominated by highly preferred foods (72% of total diet), whereas these same foods contributed just 36% of total diet at the site where possums had been present for more than two decades. Canopy condition of common possum-preferred trees was scored progressively lower in areas with increasing length of possum occupation, especially at the site where the possum population had apparently declined from its maximum density. Native forest bird abundance also declined with increasing length of possum occupation. The implications of these results for management are discussed.