Na­tive birds checked for pest con­trol

Manawatu Guardian - - NEWS -

Ap­ple, wine grape, berry and plum or­chards in Palmer­ston North, Levin and O¯ hau are in a pilot study of na­tive birds that be­gins in Novem­ber.

Sci­en­tists will catch and re­lease na­tive birds such as tui, ko­ri­mako (bell­bird), pi­wakawaka (fan­tail), riro riro (grey war­bler) and tauhou (sil­ver­eye).

A team led by Plant & Food Re­search will un­der­take the study this sum­mer to de­ter­mine if na­tive birds can po­ten­tially func­tion as na­ture’s pest con­trol.

The team will use nextgen­er­a­tion se­quenc­ing (NGS), a DNA-based method, to iden­tify in­sect DNA from col­lected avian fae­ces, which will al­low them to un­der­stand which in­sects the birds favour in their diet.

Plant & Food Re­search project man­ager Karen Ma­son says birds could prove to be an ex­cel­lent ad­di­tion to the or­chard ecosys­tem, par­tic­u­larly if they pre­fer to eat in­sect pests over in­sects that ben­e­fit grow­ers.

“The NGS tech­nol­ogy will help us bet­ter un­der­stand what in­sects na­tive birds like to eat and whether they should be en­cour­aged or dis­cour­aged from the or­chard en­vi­ron­ment. This new tech­nol­ogy has ad­van­tages over tra­di­tional meth­ods, of­fer­ing a fast, ac­cu­rate and rel­a­tively non-in­va­sive ap­proach.”

Ma­son said at­tract­ing birds to or­chards may also have sec­ondary ben­e­fits.

“Some of our nec­tiv­o­rous birds are highly ter­ri­to­rial, so they may help keep other fruiteat­ing birds away.

“Our na­tive species po­ten­tially have so much to of­fer. We should work with them to build a more sus­tain­able fu­ture.”

The study, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Dr Is­abel Cas­tro from Massey Uni­ver­sity, is part of a wider vi­sion to in­cor­po­rate more na­tive plants and an­i­mals into Aotearoa’s hor­ti­cul­tural pro­duc­tion sys­tem.

“It can po­ten­tially lead to a win-win sit­u­a­tion for in­dus­try, biodiversity, sus­tain­abil­ity and na­tive taonga con­ser­va­tion,” Ma­son said.

“It is hoped the project will pro­vide some in­sight into an­other po­ten­tial tool for grow­ers to re­duce chem­i­cal pes­ti­cides re­quired to grow crops, sup­port­ing New Zealand to meet the re­quire­ments of ex­port mar­kets, re­tail­ers and con­sumers to min­imise en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of food.”

The team plans to ex­pand this pilot study to look more in depth at var­i­ous na­tive species and the ser­vices they could pro­vide, and es­tab­lish col­lab­o­ra­tions with grow­ers and Ma¯ ori.

Tui, left, and ko­ri­mako (bell­bird) could help keep pests at bay.

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