New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2012) 36(1): 64- 74

Breeding variation in female kakapo (Strigops habroptilus) on Codfish Island in a year of low food supply

Research Article
Joanna Whitehead 1,2*
Brad Case 1
Kerry-Jayne Wilson 1,3
Laura Molles 1
  1. Department of Ecology, Faculty of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Lincoln University, PO Box 84, Lincoln, New Zealand
  2. Present address: Department of Conservation, PO Box 29, Te Anau 9600, New Zealand
  3. Present address: PO Box 70, Charleston 7865, West Coast, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

We investigated why some mature females of New Zealand’s critically endangered parrot, the kakapo (Strigops habroptilus), did not attempt to breed during the 2005 breeding season on Codfish Island. At a population level, the initiation of kakapo breeding appears to correspond with years of mast fruiting of rimu (Dacrydium cupressinum) trees, with the proportion of females that breed each season dependent on the quantity of rimu fruit available. This research investigates possible links between habitat quality within individual home ranges and the breeding status of adult females during 2005, when the abundance of available rimu fruit was low. We assessed the importance of both home range size and habitat characteristics in determining breeding attempts. Foraging home ranges were characterised using radio-tracking and triangulation techniques. The relative importance of habitat variables in optimal breeding habitat was assessed using ecological niche factor analysis. Our results show that female kakapo breeding in 2005 had, on average, home ranges twice the size of those females that did not breed that season and the ranges contained a significantly greater quantity of mature rimu forest. Multivariate analysis illustrates female kakapo were effectively partitioning available habitat, as breeders’ foraging locations were positively correlated with high-abundance rimu forest with a tall canopy, described as optimal breeding habitat. In contrast non-breeders’ locations were weakly correlated with short forest containing little or no mature rimu forest. To maximise reproductive output each breeding season, conservation managers need to ensure that all breeding-aged females occupy optimal breeding habitat on Codfish Island. Removal to other islands of kakapo not required in the breeding population may enable females to increase their home range size and occupy better breeding habitat.