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Variation in breeding success among reintroduced island populations of South Island Saddlebacks Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus

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South Island Saddlebacks Philesturnus carunculatus carunculatus were once found throughout the South Island of New Zealand, but by the early 1960s were confined to the island of Big South Cape, in the extreme south of the country. All subsequent reintroduced populations of South Island Saddlebacks are derived from 36 surviving birds from this relict population. The aim of this study was to compare the breeding success of three recently reintroduced populations of Saddlebacks relative to their distance from, and habitat similarity to, the relict population. The three study islands show a latitudinal cline with Ulva, Breaksea and Motuara Islands located 60, 190 and 810 km north of Big South Cape, respectively. Saddlebacks on Ulva and Breaksea appeared to prefer to establish breeding territories in coastal scrub, the dominant habitat feature of Big South Cape. The area of coastal scrub habitat was much smaller on Motuara, where breeding territories were instead scattered through broadleaf forest habitat. Nesting success, calculated using Mayfield's method, was significantly greater on Ulva (73%) than on Breaksea (32%) or Motuara (19%) owing primarily to higher egg fertility and hatching success. Although egg failure rates were highest on Motuara, the island least similar to Big South Cape, they were also relatively high on Breaksea where the habitat was similar to Ulva and Big South Cape. Therefore, the results only partially support the hypothesis that nesting success should decrease with increasing habitat difference associated with increasing latitudinal distance from the source population. The data from this 1-year study lay the groundwork for examining further hypotheses on the effects of reintroducing endangered species outside their contemporary range, but within their historical range.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Zoology, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand

Publication date: 2004-07-01

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