Where have all the weta gone? Results after two decades of transferring a threatened New Zealand giant weta,Deinacrida mahoenui

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Abstract

There have been numerous transfers of the large-bodied orthopteran, the Mahoenui giant weta (Family Anostostomatidae: Deinacrida mahoenui), over the past 19 years but there has been limited follow-up monitoring to ascertain establishment and breeding of transferred populations. Recent surveys carried out at all the locations where this weta were transferred, found weta at four of the seven transferred sites. The most important factor determining the success of past transfers is the absence of introduced mammalian predators, particularly rats, at a site. At two sites, Mahurangi Island Scenic Reserve and Warrenheip, weta appeared to be flourishing and have successfully established new populations in the absence of rats. If mammals are present at a site, the occurrence of dense prickly gorse to protect giant weta from predation is another important factor in their survival. Weta were found at very low densities (only single specimens were captured) at Mangaokewa Scenic Reserve and Tikikaru (private land) and it is likely their populations are not viable in the long term. Further efforts to establish Mahoenui giant weta populations should be in mammal-free sanctuaries containing native forest. More intensive post-transfer monitoring using radio-transmitters would enable better understanding of their behaviour after transfer. In addition, long-term regular monitoring of transferred populations is required, particularly those where the likelihood of rat re-invasion is high.

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