Kea calling plantation forests home need protecting too

18 October 2023 | News

Efforts to protect the threatened kea may need to extend beyond the conservation estate, a new study shows.

Jodanne searching for signals from the tagged birds.

Co-author of the preliminary study, Lincoln University PhD student Jodanne Aitken, spent a year tracking kea movement in a Nelson plantation forest adjacent to a conservation area.

She found the native birds fed, roosted, and nested among the pine trees and may benefit from predator control undertaken in the pine forest.

With fewer than 7000 individuals in the wild, kea are listed as threatened and nationally endangered, which is the second-highest threat level in New Zealand.

Jodanne said that where native species utilised plantation forests as a novel habitat, large conservation gains could be made.

She said the monitoring and control of predator species (with kea-safe devices), especially of stoats and feral cats, could benefit the kea populations living there. Plantation forests occupy 1.73 million hectares of New Zealand's total land area.

Jodanne said the research project was first of its type done with kea in this habitat type.

"This study can be seen as a preliminary approach to the question of kea utilisation of plantation forests and the role and importance of plantation forests in the conservation of kea," Jodanne said.

"Understanding kea ecology, behaviour, abundance, distribution, and habitat use in these areas is vital for conservation practitioners and forestry companies in order to make informed wildlife management decisions alongside running viable commercial forestry operations.

"If managed correctly, there is ample opportunity for synergies between the economic and conservation aspects of plantation forestry.

"The GPS data we collected showed that the study kea spent a notable amount of time in the pine plantations.

"The observations and diet data demonstrated that kea exploit these areas for their daily activity and food resources," she added.

They ate Pinus radiata seeds and stripped layers off newly harvested Douglas fir logs to get at sap, as well as digging out huhu grubs.

Jodanne said the plantation logging opened-up new food sources for the birds and promoted them living there.

More research was vital, she said, to establish whether the population was self-sustaining and based there, or if plantation forests were just part of their home range, which also included native bush and productive farm land.

Jodanne will be undertaking work as part of her PhD to ascertain the best use of GPS technology for understanding kea movements.

Learn more about Lincoln University's Pest Management and Conservation programmes here

Spotting kea in the plantation area.