Frugivorous mutualisms in a native New Zealand forest : the good the bad and the ugly
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMasters of Science
Widespread anthropogenic invasions have prompted concerns that naturalized organisms could threaten biodiversity. In particular, invasive weeds can negatively affect native biota through a variety of means, including disrupting mutualisms. This thesis was designed to observe and test dispersal mutualisms in a native forest during autumn when the majority of plant species are fruiting. In this thesis I examined whether the invasive plant barberry (Berberis glaucocarpa) was influencing the behaviour of a native frugivore bellbird (Anthornis melanura) and a range of dispersal related services in a native forest, Kowhai Bush near Kaikoura. To test these 18 banded bellbirds were followed through autumn 2011. These observe bellbirds were split between control and test bird. Barberry fruit was removed from the test bird territories. I recorded whether bellbirds changed their territory sizes, foraging and daily behaviours. During 52 hours of observations, bellbirds were never observed feeding on barberry fruit. No significant changes to bellbird behaviour or territories were observed after the removal of barberry fruit. Bellbird diet overall was dominated by invertebrates (83% of foraging observations), with smaller contributions from fruit (16%, nearly all on Coprosma robusta), nectar and honeydew. Since bellbirds did not eat barberry fruit, removal of this weed is unlikely to negatively affect bellbirds during autumn. Which other bird species were dispersing barberry was recorded. I recorded 242 hours of videotape footage on 24 fruiting plants. A total of 101 foraging events were recorded of 4 different bird species: silvereyes (Zosterops lateralis) 42 visits, blackbirds (Turdus merula) 27 visits, song thrush (Turdus philomelos) 29, and starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) 3 visits. The species differed in the mean length of time they spent in plants, so the overall contribution to barberry fruit removal was 32.6% silvereyes, 24.3% blackbirds, 42.9% song thrush and 0.1% starlings. To find out the relative contribution of exotic and native birds to dispersal of fruits in Kowhai Bush, I mist-netted 221 birds of 10 species and identified any seeds in the 183 faeces they deposited. A total of 21 plant species were observed fruiting in Kowhai Bush during this time. A total of 11 different plant species were identified from 1092 seeds. Birds were further observed feeding on 3 other plant species which were not observed in faecal samples. This left 7 plants with unobserved dispersal vectors. There were likely four main dispersers, bellbirds, silvereyes, song thrush and blackbirds and five minor, brown creeper (Mohoua novaeseelandiae), tui (Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae), fantails (Rhipidura fuliginosa), dunnock (Prunella modularis) and starlings. However there was considerable variability between these bird species dispersal abilities. Introduced birds’ song thrush and blackbirds were observed dispersing naturalized plant seeds at higher than expected rates in comparison to native frugivores bellbirds and silvereyes. I also measured the gape sizes on mist netted birds and on samples of fruit from Kowhai Bush. Both silvereyes and bellbirds were found to be eating fruit larger than their gape, but despite this two native (Hedycarya arborea and Ripogonum scandens) and three exotic plants (Vitis vinifera, Taxus baccata and Crataegus monogyna) had large fruit that were probably mainly dispersed by song thrush and blackbirds. Hence, introduced birds were important seed dispersers for large fleshy fruited seeds in Kowhai Bush. Demonstrating that interactions among native and exotic flesh fruited plants and frugivores is important within forest communities.