New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(1): 69- 82

Can stoat (Mustela erminea) trapping increase bellbird (Anthornis melanura) populations and benefit mistletoe (Peraxilla tetrapetala) pollination?

Research Article
Dave Kelly 1,*
Chelsea Brindle 1
Jenny J. Ladley 1
Alastair W. Robertson 2
Fraser W. Maddigan 1
Jeff Butler 1
Tamsin Ward-Smith 1
David J. Murphy 1
Laura A. Sessions 1
  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. Ecology, INR, Massey University, Private Bag 11222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

There are currently many attempts in New Zealand to restore native ecosystem functioning through the intensive control of introduced mammalian predators. One system that is faltering is bird pollination of endemic mistletoes (Peraxilla tetrapetala) by bellbirds (Anthornis melanura), apparently because of stoat (Mustela erminea) predation. We used a paired-catchment experiment in Nothofagus solandri var. cliffortioides forest at Craigieburn, central South Island, to measure whether stoat control could restore bellbird densities and mistletoe pollination. Stoat trapping for 10Ð12 weeks during the 2000/01 and 2001/02 nesting seasons significantly reduced stoat abundance in the treatment area compared with the non-treatment area. As a consequence, bellbird nest survival and densities increased immediately and significantly in the treatment area. Nests in 2000/01 were four times more likely to succeed in the treatment area (66.4%) than in the non-treatment area (16.4%), where video monitoring showed stoats were the key predator. Bellbird numbers per 5-minute count increased 79%. Such a large response following a small-scale stoat control operation suggests that predators limited the Craigieburn bellbird population. Adult bellbirds seem to be less susceptible than eggs and chicks to predation, as bellbird densities were still significantly elevated 24 months after trapping ceased. However, the increase in bellbird densities did not significantly improve mistletoe pollination. Therefore, the stoat trapping was only partially successful in restoring ecosystem functioning.

[Note: This paper was presented by DK as recipient of the 2000 NZ Ecological Society Award at the NZES conference in August 2001.]