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Burrowing seabirds affect forest regeneration, Rangatira Island, Chatham Islands, New Zealand

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Roberts, CM and Duncan, RP and Wilson, KJ (2007) Burrowing seabirds affect forest regeneration, Rangatira Island, Chatham Islands, New Zealand. New Zealand Journal Ecology, 31 (2). pp. 208-222. ISSN 0110-6465

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Abstract

The forests of Rangatira Island (218 ha) in the Chatham Islands are a critical breeding site for a number
of rare and threatened forest bird species, but are also home to more than three million seabirds, which could
significantly affect forest regeneration processes. We surveyed the forests of Rangatira Island by establishing
40 permanent forest plots, estimated seabird density through burrow counts, and analysed soil properties. To
determine if seabirds were impacting on forest regeneration, we established exclosures (0.25 m²) in 30 of the
forest plots, and examined the role of canopy gaps in forest regeneration. The tallest current forest (c. 15 m),
dominated by Plagianthus chathamicus, has mostly regenerated since stock were removed in 1959. Mean burrow
density was estimated to be 1.19 per square metre, all soils were highly acidic (pH 3.36–5.18), and burrow
density was positively correlated with soil phosphorus. Seedling density of woody species in seabird exclosures
measured after 9, 24 and 33 months was significantly higher than in the adjacent non-gap plots, and seedling
density was positively associated with reduced canopy cover. Seedling densities were also significantly higher
in canopy gaps than in adjacent non-gap plots, but seabird burrow density was significantly lower in gaps. These
results suggest that canopy gaps allow forest regeneration despite the negative impacts of seabird burrowing.
However, the gap makers, largely senescing Olearia traversii, are slowly disappearing from the forests. The
cohort of Plagianthus that has regenerated following farm abandonment may progressively collapse, allowing
regeneration to continue in small openings, but there is also the potential for a catastrophic blowdown.

Item Type: Article
Journal or Publication Title: New Zealand Journal Ecology
Publisher: New Zealand Ecological Society (Inc)
Page Range: pp. 208-222
ISSN: 0110-6465
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2008 14:45
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 03:36
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