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Small mustelids in New Zealand: Predator invasion ecology

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6 October, 2016

Small mustelids in New Zealand: Predator invasion ecology down-under

To manage populations of invasive pests effectively, we must first understand what controls them naturally, says Waikato University’s Professor Carolyn King.

She’ll be talking about pest control and other aspects of her research in her inaugural professorial lecture on Tuesday 11 October.

Professor King has spent her life of research studying small mammalian pests - weasels, stoats, ferrets, mice and rats. She has written nearly 70 papers for scientific journals, numerous articles and reports, has 2 PhDs, holds the 1999 New Zealand Ecological Society Award and the 2005 Mammal Society medal; and in 2010 she received the Kudos Lifetime Achievement Award.

Professor King, known to most people as Kim, is formerly from England, and lectures in zoology at the University of Waikato, in the Faculty of Science and Engineering. At her lecture she will be discussing how to monitor the numbers, distribution, breeding and population irruptions of rodents and stoats in protected forests.

She says that the number one rule for dealing with pests is to understand what controls them, and how to target them. “You need to remove them faster than they are replacing themselves, otherwise you are only harvesting them.

“In summer, after their single annual breeding season, stoats can become significant pests, especially in beech forests after a heavy seedfall. In most North Island forests they are much less significant pests than ship rats. So efficient pest control has to be well targeted and monitored,” she says.

Professor King studied weasels at Oxford University for her doctorate and came to New Zealand originally to work for the DSIR’s Ecology Division. She published her first book Immigrant Killers in 1984, which was the first detailed history of invasive predators in New Zealand, and the role played by mustelids in the devastation that wreaked our native fauna by exotic mammals.

Her research work over the years has provided the standard techniques for predicting summer irruptions of mice and stoats, and monitoring the results of control work with footprint tunnels, used by active conservation groups around the country.

“The key point is not just to find more and better ways to kill pests, but to know how many were missed, and how soon those killed will be replaced. You need to understand the rate at which you are removing the pest, and which pest you need to target,” says Professor King.

“Kokako need protection from rats and possums more so than from stoats; kiwi need protection from stoats and dogs. When takahe were first rediscovered, it was thought that removing stoats was all you needed to do to protect them, but people wondered what the consequences would be for rats. Now we find that possums have more of an effect on rat numbers than stoats do.”

Inaugural professorial lectures are the University of Waikato’s way to introduce its newest professors to the public. Professor King’s lecture on 11 October will take place at 5.15pm in the Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts.

ENDS

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