Scientists are using genetic material sampled from waterways to discover populations of rare species, indicate river health and solve environmental mysteries. You’ve heard of forensic detectives looking for traces of hair and skin at a crime scene; Wilderlab scientists use genetic material found in waterways to track down invasive species and discover populations of hard-to-find … Continue reading A cupful of water reveals native and pest species
Techniques and technologies
Photo-booths for lizards, long-lasting lures, and a trap that can recognise what it’s caught – if you want creative, hi-tech yet practical solutions to predator control problems, talk to Critter Solutions. Meet the brains behind the company. Dr Helen Blackie, biosecurity consultant at Boffa Miskell, has more than twenty years of experience working in wildlife … Continue reading High-tech predator control solutions for today, not tomorrow
The New Zealand Garden Bird Survey is a 9-day nationwide mid-winter event held every year since 2007. Citizen scientists across the country select a day and record in a garden, park, or school the maximum number of birds per species they see or hear for an hour. A vast amount of raw data has been … Continue reading No PhD necessary: citizen science could help save birds
Good for rat population control, but not a stand-alone tool – that’s how two scientists have described the success of self-resetting traps on Goat Island. In a recent study, Auckland University biologists Dr Markus Gronwald and Dr James Russell tested 10 Goodnature A24 self-resetting traps on Goat Island (Te Hāwere-a-Maki). They found that while the … Continue reading Self-resetting traps useful for rat control, not eradication
In modern covid times, we’re all very aware of how diseases can spread across borders through international air travel. Something similar could be happening with bird diseases and our kākāpõ, takahē and other endangered species on their remote sanctuary islands. ‘Air travellers’ – in this case visiting seabirds – could be bringing avian diseases with … Continue reading Seabirds, disease, sanctuary islands
A recent study by Brandon Breedt and Carolyn King provides the first estimates of the proportion of the Waikato Region occupied by each of the target introduced mammal predator species. The results offer a warning to pest managers that pests are more widespread and harder to remove than is commonly assumed, and that the absence … Continue reading Waikato pest distribution, detectability studied
It’s a bit like putting a message in a bottle – banding migratory birds and seeing where else in the world those specific bands are spotted by fellow birdwatchers. But it has a purpose that goes beyond curiosity about migration routes. Many migratory birds are declining in numbers. So where on their global travels is … Continue reading Banding aims to uncover turnstone migration mystery
Not all introduced mammals are predators. Apart from omnivorous pigs, the 14 types of ungulate (hooved) mammals introduced here over the years are all plant-grazers of one sort or another. But restoring habitat and removing predators go hand-in-hand if we’re to reverse the downward spiral of our native wildlife. Large, heavy-hooved browsing mammals can damage … Continue reading Monitoring shows ungulates increasing on public conservation land
Markus Gronwald and James Russell from the University of Auckland recently measured rat relative abundance on Goat Island, 70km north of Auckland. Both camera traps and digital strike counters for Goodnature A24 self-resetting traps were used and the results compared. A total of 7155 videos, more than 119 hours of footage, from 2161 camera days … Continue reading Goat Island rat abundance measured in multiple ways
Reinvasion by predators, of previously cleared areas, is one of the many challenges of becoming predator free. We can’t fence huge tracts of wilderness – but we can potentially make use of natural barriers. Possums, for example, may be reluctant to cross rivers. Anecdotal reports that rivers are an obstacle to possum expansion have been … Continue reading River tested as reinvasion obstacle to possums
Translocation is an important tool for conservation management – but it comes with risks. The capture and transfer process can be highly stressful to wildlife. Some individuals can and have died. Finding ways to reduce translocation stress can save lives. And the lives that are saved are often those of rare and endangered taonga. So … Continue reading Less stress = translocation success for tiny rifleman
It was human vs hard-drive in Rawhiti, Northland when researchers pitted volunteer bird enthusiasts of various ages and experience against Autonomous Recording Units (ARUs). Senses were pitted against sensors to see who (or what) was best at detecting and identifying calls. Both humans and machines had their strengths and weaknesses, the researchers found. Bird monitoring … Continue reading Know your bird calls – human brain vs hard-drive
Wetland areas and covenanted bush blocks on farms have a clear ecological value, but do they have an economic value as well? The answer is yes. But that leads to another question. How can you assess the economic value of an area of wetland or remnant forest that isn’t producing saleable crops or providing grazing … Continue reading When economics meets ecology – assessing the ‘ecosystem services’ of farmland
In the past there’s been some uncertainty over the effectiveness of large-scale aerial 1080 operations to control mice and little is known about its effect on hedgehogs. Recent trail camera monitoring of mammal predators before and after a control operation in the Blue Mountains, West Otago, suggests the operation not only controlled rats, stoats and … Continue reading Blue Mountains study shows 1080 effective – even for hedgehogs, mice
Feral cats are nocturnal, elusive creatures and can cover a lot of ground. They can range up to 6 kilometres, making monitoring difficult. So how do you go about detecting them? Camera traps are a useful, non-invasive way to determine whether you’ve got feral cats in your reserve. But most monitoring budgets don’t allow a … Continue reading Catching feral cats on camera
When researchers tested a dual baiting regime on ship rats back in 2016-2017, they also made some interesting observations about possum behaviour in their study area. Could dual baiting be adapted to overcome the bait-shy behaviour of possum survivors too? Department of Conservation and Landcare Research scientists, Graham Nugent, Richard Clayton, Bruce Warburton and Tim … Continue reading Dual 1080 bait switch solves bait-shy possum issues
How far might young rats disperse if they find themselves in a place with few other rat competitors? It’s an important question, with implications for deciding what surveillance is needed to detect invasions in predator-free islands, sanctuaries and ultimately, large predator-free mainland areas. But to find out how far rats disperse you need to release … Continue reading Rats on the move – how far do they disperse?
Birds are hard to see and sometimes shy of humans, so call counts are the way that population sizes are usually estimated. Automatic acoustic recorders have made recording bird calls easier – but recorders generate a lot of data – a LOT of data! It can end up being just too time-consuming to analyse that … Continue reading AviaNZ open-source software helps analyse bird calls
The Ashburton/Hakatere River mouth in Mid Canterbury is a nesting site for large colonies of black-billed gulls and white-fronted terns and proved an ideal study site for testing the bird census capabilities of an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) compared to more traditional bird count methods. When the results came in, the researchers made a bonus … Continue reading Drone technology offers low impact method for seabird census
How do you detect the presence of rats and mice if they’re surrounded by a glut of natural food? If it’s a mast year and there’s a carpet of seeds on the forest floor, they just may not be interested in your peanut butter-flavoured chew cards. If there are only a few remaining rats or … Continue reading Detecting rodents during a food glut
The rūrū is Aotearoa’s last remaining native owl. It’s not considered a threatened species. In fact, it’s reasonably common and widespread, especially in forested parts of the North Island and western South Island. But rūrū do tend to nest in tree cavities, which puts females at risk from introduced mammal predators. That’s a good reason … Continue reading Researchers tackle challenge of monitoring rūrū
Achieving Predator Free 2050 goals will take more than just a scaling-up of eradication efforts according to researchers Duane Peltzer et al from Landcare Research (Lincoln) and the University of Canterbury. They look beyond economic and technological feasibility to identify the key impediments we need to overcome, in a paper recently published in the Journal … Continue reading Identifying impediments to PF goals
Wasps and new technologies to control and eradicate them was the focus of a recent study at Victoria University of Wellington, seeking Māori Studies students’ perspectives of the social acceptability of novel biotechnologies. “Kaupapa Māori (KM) research includes a range of methodologies that reﬂect, or have been repurposed to put Māori values, aspirations and decolonising … Continue reading Māori Studies students surveyed on social acceptability of wasp control biotechnologies
What do you know about gene drive technology? How do you feel about it? Would knowing more make you feel more supportive of gene drive as a future means of eradication? These were some of the questions posed in a recent study looking at public opinion towards gene drive and how it relates to people’s … Continue reading National survey looks at ‘worldview’ and public attitudes to gene drive technologies
Tuhoe researchers recently joined other scientists in evaluating naturally occurring toxins in native plants. Could one of those toxins provide a culturally acceptable alternative to existing rodenticides? The results of their study have just been published in the New Zealand Journal of Ecology. Anticoagulant poisons have been used to kill rats and mice for decades, … Continue reading Native plants show potential as future rat toxins
Approximately one-third of New Zealand’s islands are now free of all invasive mammals. Could Auckland Island be next? Predator control and eradication operations are often carried out in winter – when predators are hungry and uptake of bait likely to be greater. But when it comes to eradications of sub-Antarctic islands, like Auckland Island, the … Continue reading Would summer eradication of rodents work for Auckland Island?
Dual 1080 operations – would two toxin applications a few weeks apart work better than one? Possibly, if a few other conditions are also met. Currently, aerial 1080 drops are used to control introduced predators, but not expected to totally eliminate them. Aerial 1080 application is used to knock predator numbers right down and give … Continue reading Dual 1080 application could be key to possum and rat eradication
Up until the 1950s, most pest control toxins for vertebrates, including rats, were fast-acting. While a quick death for pests is a good thing humane-wise, the issue was, rats didn’t necessarily die. They’d try a little toxin, quickly feel the effects and sensibly refuse to have anything more to do with it, before they’d consumed … Continue reading New toxin combination tested for rats and possums
Monitoring wildlife population densities in our ‘mainland island’ fenced sanctuaries is an important part of measuring sanctuary success and assessing the longterm costs and benefits of predator-exclusion fencing. Such fences don’t come cheap, after all. But finding and maintaining the funding, personnel and motivation for longterm monitoring projects can be a challenge. If specialist expertise … Continue reading Citizen science monitoring method outlined and tested
Should we be using gene editing in New Zealand for predator control? How and where might it be used? What is even possible? The Royal Society Te Aparangi have just released a range of resources considering what gene editing is and how it might be used in New Zealand. The Royal Society consider that, “as … Continue reading Gene editing for pest control
The Journal of Ornithology has just published a review of the conservation tools being developed for New Zealand’s Predator Free 2050 eradication programme. The paper’s authors, Elaine Murphy (DOC and Zero Invasive Predators – ZIP), James Russell (ZIP and University of Auckland), Keith Broome (DOC), Grant Ryan (Cacophany Project) and John Dowding (DM Consultants) are … Continue reading Review of conservation tools under development
Translocations have been an important part of North Island kōkako population recovery, but when you’re obtaining your founding birds from small relict populations it’s important to maintain and even improve genetic diversity. University of Otago Zoology Masters graduate Meghan Milner-Jones studied the genetics of kōkako in her 2018 Masters thesis, available online through ‘OUR Archive’. … Continue reading Kōkako genetics investigated
The kākāpō population is outgrowing its island refuge – but where might future kākāpō live? In a predator free future, the answer could include protected mainland sites provided there are sites that are big enough, safe enough and with the right kind of habitat for kakapo to thrive. If those likely sites can be identified … Continue reading Study seeks future homes for kākāpō
A 22-year study in Tongariro Forest has followed 142 radio-tagged North Island brown kiwi through 4 landscape-scale aerial 1080 operations, covering an area of 20,000 hectares. Not only did all 142 kiwi survive the 1080 drops, but the long-term study reveals a swag of other interesting information on kiwi chick survival and fantail nesting success … Continue reading Long-range study follows kiwi for 22 years
Peanut butter is the standard rat attractant – and apparently, they’re pretty keen on chocolate and Nutella too. But researchers at Victoria University of Wellington’s ‘Centre for Biodiversity and Restoration Ecology’ have come up with some chemical compounds that wild rats seem to rate even better than peanut butter. The quest for an irresistible rat … Continue reading New clues in the search for synthetic lures
An ambitious 5-year project to map the birds of New Zealand across every part of New Zealand was launched at Queen’s Birthday weekend. It’s called the New Zealand Bird Atlas and organisers are hoping to involve as many New Zealanders as possible in spotting, counting and recording the birds they see – be it at … Continue reading New Zealand Bird Atlas project launched
To achieve a predator free New Zealand by 2050 – or by any date – the majority of New Zealand will need to back that goal. Young people in particular need to want it to happen and be engaged in making it happen. After all, it’s their future, 30 years from now, that we’re talking … Continue reading PF2050 – do young people support the goal?
New Zealand researchers have been taking a closer look at the family histories of Man’s long-time travelling companion – the rat. Genealogy meets gene analysis in this study, carried out by Auckland University researchers James Russell, Judith Robins and Rachel Fewster and published this month in the international journal Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution. Kiore … Continue reading Rat genetics tracks invasion back through time
Has your community group identified specific longterm conservation goals? What outcomes do you expect to see from the many hours of volunteer work that your team puts in? Have you thought about how your project contributes to the wider New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy? In a recent report published in the New Zealand Journal of Ecology, … Continue reading Community groups under the microscope
Predator control in kea habitat is mostly by aerial 1080 – and some kea are known to have died from eating the bait. It’s not an outcome that anyone wants to see. So what are the risk factors? What might be done to mitigate those risks and why do leading conservationists, including kea experts, think … Continue reading Kea survival during aerial 1080 – identifying the risks
As families and sometimes pets head off to holiday spots for summer, now is a good time to remember that dogs – even Pekinese and the family poodle – can be a deadly threat to kiwi. An exploratory grab can crush the fragile bones of a bird’s chest, even if the dog is ‘retrieving’ rather … Continue reading Study evaluates kiwi aversion training for dogs
The research happened a decade ago now – this paper was published back in 2008 – but how many people have even heard of the large, carnivorous Mercury Island tusked weta (Motuweta isolata), let alone the extraordinary story of its step back from the cliff-face of extinction? Despite its large size (adult body length 46–73 … Continue reading How a tusked, carnivorous weta was saved
It’s not quite a sugar-coated pill, but the principle is similar – a nice flavoured coating that not only encourages rodents to take the bait, but also protects the toxic cereal bait within from deteriorating over time and going mouldy. Norway rats, in particular, have been found to avoid mouldy bait. Research recently published in … Continue reading Researchers study new ways to stop bait going mouldy
Canterbury’s Quail Island Ecological Restoration Trust has been working with Department of Conservation staff and researchers from Lincoln and other universities to eradicate introduced mammals from the island and document their processes, successes and learning outcomes in an article recently published in the New Zealand Journal of Zoology. “Ōtamahua/Quail Island is an 85 ha Recreation … Continue reading Lessons learned in combating mice on Quail Island
D-Block bait and DITRAC All-Weather BLOX are two commonly used, long-life rodent baits with the same active ingredient, the anticoagulant Diphacinone. Rats and mice need to consume bait over several days to get a lethal dose, so it’s important to keep them coming back for more. Although the toxin is the same, the two bait … Continue reading Bait consumption study shows what appeals to rats
Peanut butter has long been used as a bait for rat traps. Possums have a fondness for the scent of cinnamon. But are they the all-time favourite foods of rats and possums? Researchers at Victoria University of Wellington used chew cards to check out what really tickles the tastebuds of two of our more common … Continue reading Better baits and better trapping
Public conservation land is only a small proportion of the total land of New Zealand and isn’t necessarily representative of the full range of ecosystems. David Norton (School of Forestry, University of Canterbury, Jason Butt (Environment Canterbury) and David Bergin (Environmental Restoration Ltd) look at how we can sustain and enhance native biodiversity on private … Continue reading Upscaling restoration – 8 things to consider
Like many modern-day medicines, rodenticides are often derived from natural sources. Plants may evolve toxic chemicals to protect them from grazers for example, and sometimes all that distinguishes a beneficial drug from a toxic poison is the dosage. In a recent issue of the NZ Journal of Zoology, Charles Eason, ecologist with Lincoln University (Lincoln) … Continue reading Rat poisons and human medicines have natural links
Predator Free Great Barrier or Stewart Island? It’s already technically feasible. But is it socially feasible?When it comes to complete eradication of predators on inhabited islands there’s a lot more to consider than just the conservation benefits and technical aspects. People, their livestock, their pets and their lifestyle are all going to be impacted. In … Continue reading Eradication – what about the social impacts?
The technology associated with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is getting smart and sophisticated. These intriguing little machines are more than just Christmas toys. High-end models are proving their worth in a whole variety of ways including detecting water deficiencies in agricultural crops and mapping invasive species. They’re even being trialled as a delivery method by … Continue reading Tools for a predator-free future
Tracking tunnels, chew cards and WaxTags© are commonly used to detect predator presence and monitor abundance, but in recent years there’s been a new tool in the conservation kit – the remote camera. Evaluations of its use are showing that it is a tool with a lot of promise and some significant advantages over traditional … Continue reading Detecting predators in the city – what works best?
Rats are fastidious groomers. So how does an animal that grooms frequently react to the prospect of running through viscous tracking ink? Are rats reluctant to get their feet dirty – and if so, what are the implications for tracking tunnel monitoring? Prof. Carolyn King and fellow researchers at the School of Science, University of Waikato … Continue reading Do rats mind inky feet?
The A24 self-resetting trap has been around for a year or two now, but development of the product and testing of its capabilities continues, along with evaluations of how best to utilise the traps in ‘real world’ predator eradications. Darren Peters from DOC, along with the team from Goodnature have recently been putting A24s to … Continue reading A24 vs Stoats – island experiment deemed a success
Conservation genetics has implications for all sorts of conservation measures. Whether it be choosing the source birds for a translocation to a new sanctuary to ensure sufficient genetic diversity, ‘forensic’ type investigations to identify the source of a newly arrived predator on an island (where a swimming stoat has come from, for example), or research … Continue reading Conservation geneticists want to build a bridge to DOC
Breakthrough genetic technologies are likely to play a key role in achieving a predator-free future. But it’s important that we understand what the various technologies are now – as they’re being developed – not when they’re about to be implemented. We need to debate the issues and become as informed as possible; to know if … Continue reading What’s the story with genetic pest management (GPM)?
A predator-free New Zealand is going to require landscape scale removal of possums, rats, ferrets, stoats and weasels – and possibly other species such as mice and feral cats as well. The problem – or at least one of the problems – is how do you humanely remove some species without endangering others that share … Continue reading Genome-mining to find toxins that are species-selective
When scientists Patrick Garvey (University of Auckland), Alistair Glen and Roger Pech (Landcare Research, Lincoln) tested the response of 18 wild-caught stoats to the scents of bigger, dominant predators, the response of the stoats was the opposite of what they expected. The researchers used towels from the bedding of ferrets and cats (familiar top-order predators) … Continue reading Predator scent may be key to developing long-life lures
Rats are a uniquely serious problem on islands such as New Zealand where there has been a rodent-free evolution of our wildlife and plantlife, but scientists around the world are also looking for better ways to control rats because of their disease-carrying and food-spoilage attributes. Black (ship) rats with their tree-climbing abilities are New Zealand’s … Continue reading Canadian researchers come up with innovative rat-luring techniques
If you want to measure the abundance of birds in a forest you can count how many you see or record the birdsong you hear. But how do you monitor whether your predator control is increasing invertebrate diversity? As some of our larger invertebrates such as tree weta and stick insects are likely to be … Continue reading Frass drop – finding clues from the poos
‘Raptors vs aliens’ – it sounds like the latest Hollywood blockbuster, but it’s actually the title of a paper published in the NZ Journal of Zoology at the end of last year. Written by NZ Landcare Research scientists A.S. Glen and R.P. Pech, along with two Australian authors, the research investigates the complex relationship between … Continue reading Raptors vs aliens – might it work?
‘Citizen Science’ and academia worked together in a research project near Nelson to determine the effectiveness of a predator control programme in boosting bird numbers and also to evaluate the usefulness of a bird survey method as an easy-to-use monitoring tool for volunteer conservation groups. The study was carried out from 2002-2010 and published in … Continue reading Alternative bird survey method investigated
While PFNZ Trust focuses on 5 key introduced predator species (possums, rats, ferrets, stoats and weasels), we acknowledge that domestic pets – both cats and dogs – are also introduced predators and are potential killers of native wildlife if allowed to stray. Wandering dogs can and do kill kiwi and penguins when they encounter them. … Continue reading Tracking cats on Rakiura/Stewart Island
Genetic profiling sounds like something from a crime thriller, but it is a modern scientific technique that can be used to better understand the dispersal behaviour of animals and relationships between various populations. Auckland’s various stoat population were recently the subject of a genetic profiling study which revealed intriguing information about connectivity and migration. Female … Continue reading Genetic profiling reveals source of invaders
A huge effort has gone into controlling possums across New Zealand for a number of years, particularly with respect to TB eradication efforts, but what do we know about the overall biodiversity outcomes? Are we on top of the problem? Has native biodiversity benefited long-term from the war waged against TB or are short-term benefits … Continue reading Measuring biodiversity outcomes
If you find a dead bird in an area after a toxin operation it’s an easy leap to say “the poison did it”. But was the dead bird poisoned? The only way to know is to test for toxin levels – and that’s exactly what Landcare Research (Lincoln) scientists Grant Morriss, Graham Nugent and Jackie … Continue reading Bird by-kill – what research reveals
This is not about an amazing scientific breakthrough in new toxins or lures. It doesn’t reveal a science-fiction-like technological invention or genetic modification to wipe out predators. Such things happen rarely in the world of science. But what the following research projects show is that the old methods (with some modern modifications and monitoring techniques) … Continue reading Catching rats – getting the basics right
In a paper just published online (and not available in print until 2017), some of New Zealand’s top conservation scientists review the prospects for control and eventual eradication of our key mammalian pests. John Parkes, Graham Nugent, David Forsyth, Andrea Byrom, Roger Pech, Bruce Warburton and David Choquenot have written a comprehensive paper looking at … Continue reading Pest-free future under the microscope
Science isn’t just about the big breakthroughs – although they’re great when they happen. Mostly it’s about challenging assumptions, testing alternatives and finding new and better ways to do things. Change is incremental and improvements are constantly being integrated into the way things are done. Something might be working already, but is there another way … Continue reading GPS offers aerial application alternative
Just because you’re not catching anything, doesn’t necessarily mean all predators have been eradicated. Being certain that an area is completely predator-free is a challenge in island eradications where certainty is needed before endangered species can be reintroduced. But the problem also applies to mainland pest operations – how can you be sure you’ve been … Continue reading Rapid eradication assessment – with online app
How do you change public behaviour – for example, persuade cat owner’s to bring their pets inside? Is education the answer? Is education enough? If people just knew more about conservation issues would they become supporters and adopt conservation values themselves? Not necessarily. The reality is not everyone cares – and if they don’t care … Continue reading Influencing conservation behaviour – the role of social psychology
Research and innovation mean that the options for helping out our native species are increasing all the time. First, there were small, predator-free island sanctuaries, then bigger islands and then there was Zealandia – the world’s first fully-fenced urban ecosanctuary. Mainland sanctuaries are now being developed across New Zealand – but there is some serious … Continue reading Doing the sums – what are the best predator control options?
It’s called the Trojan Female Technique and it’s involves a mutation in females that makes all their male offspring infertile. Because it is a gene, not a virus, it stays within that particular species and is spread from one generation to the next by breeding, not by disease. It has the potential to wipe out … Continue reading Trojan Possums – are they the next step?
Fundamental to a well-managed pest control programme is detecting what predators you have and monitoring the changes in abundance as your trapping regime progresses. Leg hold traps are a traditional way to achieve this, but may not be sensitive to possum presence when possum levels are at very low abundance. Recently published research puts two … Continue reading Detecting predators – can you count on chew-track-cards and WaxTags?
Rest assured, New Zealand’s scientific community are beavering away to find new and better ways to combat possums. These are just a few of the research reports investigating possum control recently published in the New Zealand Journal of Ecology. Firstly a poison bait evaluation was carried out in a joint project by researchers from Connovation … Continue reading New ways to combat possums
Environmental monitoring is more than just a modern conservation buzzword. It’s an essential tool in determining whether all those volunteer hours put in by your community group is achieving positive, measurable change. Positive change is not just dead rats, dead possums and a truckload of weeds removed. Was the removal of those predators and pest … Continue reading Monitoring matters
Braided river systems are rare throughout the world, but we have some superb examples in New Zealand, particularly in the Canterbury and Southland regions. New Zealand’s braided riverbeds are breeding grounds for some very special wildlife including the wrybill – the only bird in the world with a bent beak – and the very rare … Continue reading Braided rivers and predator monitoring
No-one wants to see the birds and other wildlife we’re trying to protect, killed or in any way harmed by the very methods we use to protect them from predators, either by consuming bait or being accidentally caught in traps. It’s a delicate balance and often a controversial subject where strong opinions are held. Today … Continue reading Bait residue issues
The battle for the bush (and swamp, riverbed and shore) is being fought not just on the ground in New Zealand, but also in research labs and on computer screens around the country. New ideas are being brainstormed and innovations in predator control are being computer-modelled and tested in the field. So what have some … Continue reading Mice, rats and multi-capture traps