New Zealand has an excellent record of conserving its native flora and fauna through pest control measures, especially in large uninhabited areas. Predator Free 2050 is a bold initiative that aims to rid the country of its most damaging invasive predators. However, to completely eliminate such predators from our shores, new and ambitious approaches are needed.

Implementing effective predator control over large areas 

New Zealand’s unique and diverse native species of flora and fauna are extremely vulnerable to invasive mammals. Our often-publicised successes in conserving the country’s biodiversity by managing pests has mainly been restricted to large uninhabited areas. Meanwhile, large tracts of land owned by private individuals remain relatively unprotected.

When it comes to land management decisions such as pest control actions, careful negotiations are required with a wide range of stakeholders with differing views – from cat-lovers to rabbit-haters – so that agreements can be reached.

Experience has shown there are minimum thresholds for landholder participation in predator control measures for them to be successful. In practice, coordinated community efforts are required so that pest reinvasion from a few untreated properties does not compromise pest control achieved by others.

Another crucial element is biological connectivity between properties – the establishment of ‘safe passage’ corridors crossing landowner boundaries greatly assists in the dispersal of native species between fragments of suitable habitat. Large-scale pest control is therefore a spatial issue with social, environmental, and economic components.

The spread model is still being developed to provide more functionality for managers. In particular, we are investigating the ways in which landholders influence one another, how agencies influence landholders, and the presence of key influential landholders who might help catalyze actions are the current focus of research. Ultimately, the aim of the model is to improve strategic planning for mammal control at regional scales. Also, this model serves as a template for future dynamic maps of other mammal species.

Large-scale Cape to City research project in Hawke’s Bay

Te Pūnaha Matatini investigators Audrey Lustig, Mike Plank and Alex James, from the University of Canterbury, are involved in a large-scale predator control initiative covering 26,000 hectares of agricultural land in Hawke’s Bay, part of a wide range of research activities referred to as the Cape to City research project by the Hawke’s Bay City Council.

“This is just a start for a much more ambitious project that proposes a vision to eliminate invasive predators from the entire country,” says Audrey. “In this work, we develop a generic modeling approach as a planning tool for predicting the abundance and the likely persistence of four New Zealand top mammalian predators in the light of potential changes in management effort across human-dominated landscape.”

The first part of the project aims to generate a computer model for predicting the distribution and abundance of mammalian species across the landscape, the ways in which animals move from their natal sites, and how their distributions and abundance are affected by control interventions.

Such modelling can help inform managers on the likelihood of success of a specific pest control action (assuming every landholder participates in the control action). It also allows exploration of some of the mechanisms by which mammal populations might recover after control operations.

Importance of multi-stakeholder engagement

The work builds on a pre-existing knowledge base and data acquired by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, Department of Conservation, Manaaki Whenua and the Biological Heritage Challenge to bring about practical improvements in mammalian pest management in New Zealand.

“Such inter-organisational joint effort is common in New Zealand, but to me, what was critical was to bring a more practical insight into my research,” says Audrey. “In particular, the provision of direct feedback from decision-makers forms an integral part of the learning process and enriches my research experiences and outcomes, while providing useful information to the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council.”

For further details about this project, please contact us today.