New look in post-pest era
SCIENTISTS who helped eradicate pests on Macquarie Island are returning to the sub-Antarctic isle to monitor how the complex ecosystem is recovering.
Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies researchers Julie McInnes and Toby Travers have arrived on the island to monitor its recovery after a five-year, $25 million program to eradicate rabbits, rats and mice finished in 2014.
The pair, who are working with Jeremy Bird for the Threatened Species Recovery Hub, recently arrived after a 1500km journey from Hobart on the French icebreaker L’Astrolabe. An update on the World Heritage Listed island’s ecosystem, which includes 300 native and 50 non-native invertebrate species, is expected soon.
Mr Bird will examine how burrowing petrels are recovering without rodents. Mr Travers will evaluate how predatory bird the skua is impacted without rabbits as a main food source and whether it targets other animals.
Ms McInnes will monitor both projects. Researchers will also evaluate flora recovery since rabbits were no longer around to eat plants.
Joining them in January will be University of Queensland PhD student Melissa Houghton for her final invertebrate survey. She will study interactions between the island’s many native and nonnative species to determine how its complex ecosystem is recovering and changing since the eradication.
Ms Houghton has just received the Australian Academy of Science Max Day Environmental Science Fellowship Award for her involvement in the eradication as a dog handler, with hunters and baiting also involved.
She said preliminary findings of recovery had shown an increase in spiders, tussock grass, alpine daisies and Macquarie Island cabbage. A good outlook for birds was also expected.
Ms Houghton said findings from the research would allow for better conservation management decisions and biodiversity investment.
“The signs are good for this project,” she said. “The recovery long term is expected to be good, particularly for birds.”