New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2007) 31(2): 202- 207

Factors influencing brushtail possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) damage in a Pinus radiata plantation on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand

Research Article
Marco A. Jacometti 1*
Chris M. Frampton 2
Graham J. Hickling 3
  1. National Centre for Advanced Bio-Protection Technologies, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, New Zealand
  2. Department of Medicine, Christchurch School of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Otago, PO Box 4345, Christchurch, New Zealand
  3. Department of Forestry Wildlife and Fisheries, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37966, USA
*  Corresponding author

Damage by introduced brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula) to Pinus radiata trees was assessed in 41 compartments of a commercial forestry plantation on the Coromandel Peninsula, New Zealand. All the trees assessed were less than 3 years old. Possum damage in the compartments was low (median prevalence 3.3%) but highly variable (range 0–30%). Eight of 37 measured habitat factors differed significantly (P < 0.05) between the sites with damaged and undamaged trees. The best predictor of mean damage was stand age, but this explained only 21% of the variation in damage among compartments. Including both stand age and New Zealand bracken (Pteridium esculentum) cover improved the model significantly and explained 36% of variation in damage. Damage was apparently unrelated to compartment size, distance from the compartment boundary, and possum den-site availability. Surprisingly, the relationship between browse damage and a trap-catch index of possum abundance was weakly negative (rS = −0.53, P = 0.05). The dense understorey associated with young pine stands tends to increase possum damage to associated P. radiata trees, but the possums in such stands may be less mobile at ground level and thus less easily trapped. Assessment of stand age and understorey characteristics, together with visual inspection for early signs of damage, is likely to be more cost-effective than possum surveys for identifying forest compartments at risk from possum browse.