New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(1): 115- 136

New Zealand island restoration: seabirds, predators, and the importance of history

Review Article
Peter J. Bellingham 1,*
David R. Towns 2
Ewen K. Cameron 3
Joe J. Davis 4
David A. Wardle 5
Janet M. Wilmshurst 1
Christa P.H. Mulder 6
  1. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  2. Department of Conservation, Private Bag 68-908, Auckland, New Zealand
  3. Auckland Museum, Private Bag 92018, Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Ngati Hei Trust, PO Box 250, Whitianga, New Zealand
  5. Department of Forest Vegetation Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, S 901 83 Umeå, Sweden
  6. Department of Biology and Wildlife & Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, AK 99775, USA
*  Corresponding author

New Zealand’s offshore and outlying islands have long been a focus of conservation biology as sites
of local endemism and as last refuges for many species. During the c. 730 years since New Zealand has been settled by people, mammalian predators have invaded many islands and caused local and global extinctions. New Zealand has led international efforts in island restoration. By the late 1980s, translocations of threatened birds to predator-free islands were well under way to safeguard against extinction. Non-native herbivores and predators, such as goats and cats, had been eradicated from some islands. A significant development in island restoration in the mid-1980s was the eradication of rats from small forested islands. This eradication technology has been refined and currently at least 65 islands, including large and remote Campbell (11 216 ha) and Raoul
(2938 ha) Islands, have been successfully cleared of rats.
Many of New Zealand’s offshore islands, especially those without predatory mammals, are home to large numbers of breeding seabirds. Seabirds influence ecosystem processes on islands by enhancing soil fertility and through soil disturbance by burrowing. Predators, especially rats, alter ecosystem processes and cause population reductions or extinctions of native animals and plants. Islands have been promoted as touchstones of a primaeval New Zealand, but we are now increasingly aware that most islands have been substantially modified since human settlement of New Zealand. Archaeological and palaeoecological investigations, together with the acknowledgement that many islands have been important mahinga kai (sources of food) for Maori, have all led to a better understanding of how people have modified these islands. Restoration technology may have vaulted
ahead of our ability to predict the ecosystem consequences of its application on islands. However, research is now being directed to help make better decisions about restoration and management of islands, decisions that take account of island history and key drivers of island ecosystem functioning.