New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2005) 29(2): 221- 229

Habitat selection by South Island saddlebacks and Stewart Island robins reintroduced to Ulva Island

Research Article
Kate E. Steffens 1,2
Philip J. Seddon 1
Renaud Mathieu 3
Ian G. Jamieson 1,*
  1. Department of Zoology, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  2. Present address: Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 11010, Palmerston North, New Zealand
  3. School of Surveying, University of Otago, P.O. Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Determining whether animals select some habitats over others provides basic information about how animals meet their requirements for survival and reproduction. Habitat selection is therefore an important component of conservation research. Studies involving the release and establishment of threatened species on island refuges can be particularly insightful because breeding pairs should be able to select habitat of the highest quality within the range available. This study uses GIS technology to investigate the spatial distribution of breeding territories in relation to overall habitat availability of two threatened passerines, South Island saddlebacks (Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus) and Stewart Island robins (Petroica australis rakiura) two years after their release onto predator-free Ulva Island. Both species established breeding territories around the periphery of the island in coastal forest fringe habitat and away from mature forest in the interior of the island. Compositional analysis suggested that both species prefer dense, fringe-type habitat with open ground cover and deep litter layers and avoid more mature forests, especially with moss cover. Thus habitat structure is likely to be more important for both species than plant-species composition. However, the possibility exists that the preference of coastal fringe habitat could represent an ‘ecological trap’, where habitat preference does not correspond to better quality habitat in terms of reproductive fitness. It will be useful to continue monitoring saddlebacks and robins to obtain data on survival and fecundity as the density of birds increases, and breeding pairs are forced to establish territories in what is presently perceived to be less preferred habitat in the interior part of the island.