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The Inaccessible Island Rail Atlantisia rogersi, the world’s smallest extant flightless bird, is endemic to Inaccessible Island, a 14-km2 uninhabited island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, central South Atlantic Ocean. Rail populations are notoriously hard to survey and the rugged topography of Inaccessible Island makes a survey particularly challenging. Fortunately, Inaccessible Island Rails are very vocal, because their secretive behaviour means birds are hard to observe in the dense vegetation. We assessed the distribution of rails across Inaccessible Island using playbacks at 350 point-count sites in October–November 2018. Rail calls were heard at 98% of sites and we estimate the rail population to be in the order of 10,300 birds (95% CI 9,100–12,200), based on estimated rail densities in the six main habitats. Historic population estimates were reasonably crude and thus not suitable for inferring population trends, but the population appears to be stable and we recommend the species’ status remains as ‘Vulnerable’. The accidental introduction of alien mammals poses the greatest threat to the survival of the Inaccessible Island Rail and the removal of house mouse Mus musculus and ship rat Rattus rattus from neighbouring Tristan da Cunha Island would greatly reduce the risk of such a catastrophe.
We compared systematic and random survey techniques to estimate breeding population sizes of burrow-nesting petrel species on Marion Island. White-chinned (Procellaria aequinoctialis) and blue (Halobaena caerulea) petrel population sizes were estimated in systematic surveys (which attempt to count every colony) in 2009 and 2012, respectively. In 2015, we counted burrows of white-chinned, blue and great-winged (Pterodroma macroptera) petrels within 52 randomized strip transects (25 m wide, total 144 km). Burrow densities were extrapolated by Geographic Information System-derived habitat attributes (geology, vegetation, slope, elevation, aspect) to generate island-wide burrow estimates. Great-winged petrel burrows were found singly or in small groups at low densities (2 burrows ha−1); white-chinned petrel burrows were in loose clusters at moderate densities (3 burrows ha−1); and blue petrel burrows were in tight clusters at high densities (13 burrows ha−1). The random survey estimated 58% more white-chinned petrels but 42% fewer blue petrels than the systematic surveys. The results suggest that random transects are best suited for species that are widely distributed at low densities, but become increasingly poor for estimating population sizes of species with clustered distributions. Repeated fixed transects provide a robust way to monitor changes in colony density and area, but might fail to detect the formation/disappearance of new colonies.
White-chinned petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis L. are the most frequently recorded procellariiform species in the bycatch of Southern Hemisphere longline fisheries. Our study investigated the year-round movements of ten adult white-chinned petrels (seven breeders, three non-breeders/suspected pre-breeders) from Marion Island tracked with global location sensor (GLS) loggers for three years. Additionally, 20 global positioning system (GPS) tracks were obtained from breeding white-chinned petrels during incubation (n=9) and chick-rearing (n=11). All GLS-tagged birds remained, year-round, in the area between southern Africa and Antarctica, not making any major east/west movements. Three core areas (50% kernels) were utilized: around the Prince Edward Islands (PEI; incubation and early chick-rearing), c. 1000 km west of PEI (pre-breeding and early incubation) and around South Africa (non-breeding birds). The only area where 50% utilization kernels overlapped with intensive longline fishing effort was off the Agulhas Bank (non-breeding season). Our results confirm the lack of foraging overlap between the two subspecies; nominate birds (South Georgia/south-western Indian Ocean) utilize separate areas to P. a. steadi (New Zealand/sub-Antarctic islands), and thus should be treated as separate management units. Knowledge of the year-round movements of a vagile species, such as the white-chinned petrel, is important for its continued conservation.
We report the breeding success of four species of burrow-nesting petrels at sub-Antarctic Marion Island where house mice Mus musculus are the sole introduced mammal. Feral cats Felis catus were present on Marion for four decades from 1949, killing millions of seabirds and greatly reducing petrel populations. Cats were eradicated by 1991, but petrel populations have shown only marginal recoveries. We hypothesize that mice are suppressing their recovery through depredation of petrel eggs and chicks. Breeding success for winter breeders (grey petrels Procellaria cinerea (34±21%) and great-winged petrels Pterodroma macroptera (52±7%)) were lower than for summer breeders (blue petrels Halobaena caerulea (61±6%) and white-chinned petrels Procellaria aequinoctialis (59±6%)) and among winter breeders most chick fatalities were of small chicks up to 14 days old. We assessed the extent of mouse predation by monitoring the inside of 55 burrow chambers with video surveillance cameras (4024 film days from 2012–16) and recorded fatal attacks on grey (3/18 nests filmed, 17%) and great-winged petrel chicks (1/19, 5%). Our results show that burrow-nesting petrels are at risk from mouse predation, providing further motivation for the eradication of mice from Marion Island.
Sustainable ecotourism requires careful management of human impacts on wildlife. Contrasting responses to the disturbance caused by ecotourism are observed across taxa and within species, because species and populations can differ in their tolerance to humans. However, the mechanisms by which tolerance develops remain unclear. Penguin colonies are popular tourist attractions. Although ecotourism increases public awareness and generates conservation income, it can also disturb penguins, raising concerns for threatened species such as the African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, whose populations are in rapid decline. We compared the tolerance of African Penguins to human disturbance across four colonies with contrasting histories of human exposure. Human approaches invoked the least response at colonies where human exposure was highest, suggesting increased human tolerance with increased exposure. The response to humans close to the nest also decreased more rapidly in highly exposed individuals within colonies. These results were consistent independent of breeding stage, and were repeated among colonies. Because the impacts of human disturbance, including temporary nest desertion, were greatest at the colony with least human exposure, human disturbance of breeding African Penguins potentially may be mitigated through increased levels of tolerance to humans, or displacement of shyer individuals, although this could not be assessed in the present study.
However, human exposure could significantly increase stress, impair reproduction and even reduce genetic diversity. Consequently, ecotourism must be managed carefully to minimize population level impacts, potentially by facilitating habituation in populations subject to non-threatening human disturbance, and maintaining some areas free of disturbance to allow shy individuals to breed.
House mice (Mus musculus L.) were introduced to sub-Antarctic Marion Island more than two centuries ago, and have been the only introduced mammal on the island since 1991 when feral cats were eradicated. The first mouse-injured wandering albatross (Diomedea exulans L.) chick was found in 2003 and since then attacks have continued at a low level affecting <1% of the population. In 2009, the first ‘scalpings’ were detected; sooty albatross (Phoebetria fusca Hilsenberg) fledglings were found with raw wounds on the nape. In 2015, mice attacked large chicks of all three albatross species that fledge in autumn: grey-headed (Thalassarche chrysostoma Forster) (at least 102 wounded chicks; 4.6% of fledglings), sooty (n=45, 4.3%) and light-mantled albatross (P. palpebrata Forster) (n=1, 4%). Filming at night confirmed that mice were responsible for wounds. Attacks started independently in small pockets all around the island’s 70 km coastline, separated by distances hundreds of times greater than mouse home ranges. The widespread nature of mouse attacks in 2015 on large, well-feathered chicks is alarming and highlights not only Marion Island as a priority island for mouse eradication but also that mice alone may significantly affect threatened seabird species.
Since 2004 there has been mounting evidence of the severe impact of introduced house mice (Mus musculus L.) killing chicks of burrow-nesting petrels at Gough Island. We monitored seven species of burrow-nesting petrels in 2014 using a combination of infra-red video cameras augmented by burrowscope nest inspections. All seven camera-monitored Atlantic petrel (Pterodroma incerta Schlegel) chicks were killed by mice within hours of hatching (average 7.2±4.0 hours) with an 87% chick failure rate (n=83 hatchlings). Several grey petrel (Procellaria cinerea Gmelin) chicks were found with mouse wounds and 60% of chicks failed (n=35 hatchlings). Video surveillance revealed one (of seven nests filmed) fatal attack on a great shearwater (Puffinus gravis O’Reilly) chick and two (of nine) on soft-plumaged petrel (Pterodroma mollis Gould) chicks. Mice killed the chicks of the recently discovered summer-breeding MacGillivray’s prion (Pachyptila macgillivrayi Mathews), with a chick mortality rate of 82% in 2013/14 and 100% in 2014/15. The closely-related broad-billed prion (P. vittata Forster) breeds in late winter and also had a chick mortality rate of 100% in 2014. The results provide further evidence of the dire situation for seabirds nesting on Gough Island and the urgent need for mouse eradication.
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