New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2007) 31(1): 88- 97

Selection of alpine grasslands over beech forest by stoats (Mustela erminea) in montane southern New Zealand

Research Article
Des H. V. Smith 1
Deborah J. Wilson 2,*
Henrik Moller 3
Elaine C. Murphy 1
Yolanda van Heezik 3
  1. Department of Conservation, Research, Development and Improvement Division, PO Box 3 049, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 930, Dunedin, New Zealand
  3. Zoology Department, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Predation by introduced stoats is now considered a major threat to the population viability of several New Zealand endemic bird species. Historically stoat research and management has focused on beech forests and little is known about the ecology of stoats in the alpine grasslands occurring above the natural altitudinal limit of beech forest. Several stoat control operations in beech forest valley floors in southern New Zealand assume that adjacent montane areas act as a barrier to stoat immigration. Stoats were live-trapped and radio-tracked in alpine grasslands above the Borland Burn, Fiordland National Park, during the summer and autumn of 2003 and 2004. Seventeen stoats were radio-collared and home ranges were estimated for 11 of them. These home ranges were used in a compositional analysis which showed that these stoats spent significantly more time in alpine grassland than in adjacent beech forest. Range cores calculated for six of these stoats were located high up in alpine grassland and contained very little beech forest. This means that montane areas that contain alpine grasslands are unlikely to be barriers to stoat immigration; rather they may be a source of dispersing stoats that reinvade control areas. Also, endemic animal species that inhabit alpine grasslands could be at risk from stoat predation.