Behavioural plasticity of life history traits in the New Zealand avifauna
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Science
The purpose of this research was to determine how predator control influences nest survival and changes in life history strategies of birds. All studies were conducted at two sites: one site had very little mammal control, while the other site is a 'mainland island' in which all introduced mammals were trapped or poisoned. Nest survival rates of introduced and native species were compared between the two sites by locating and monitoring nests of nine species. I found that mammalian predator control increased nest survival rates of both introduced and native species, but the incrase of nest survival was more pronounced in native species. The influence of predator control on the plasticity of life history strategies in introduced and native New Zealand birds was also examined. Some life history strategies (e.g. time spent incubating, frequency of visits to the nest) changed significantly in the area with predator control, while other life history traits (e.g. clutch size) did not vary between areas. I found that both introduced and native New Zealand birds changed a variety of life history traits and that the changes were likely a plastic response to the recent change in predator numbers. As it has been suggested that birds may become less responsive to mammals when predators are controlled, I tested the response of birds to a model of a feral cat. Birds in the predator control area were significantly less likely to recognise the cat model as a potential threat. This suggests the recognition of predators can be rapidly lost from a population. My research confirms that mammal control can increase nest success of native species, but reductions in predator numbers can also change a variety of life history traits and behaviours. As the removal of mammalian predators also appears to make birds less responsive to potential predators, it is important for continued mammalian control once management has begun. Otherwise, any reintroduction of predatory mammals into controlled sites would likely place such bird populations at greater risk as they would have behaviours suited to an environment with lowered nest predation risk.