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Possible rescue from extinction: transfer of a rare New Zealand tusked weta to islands in the Mercury group

Abstract

The rare Mercury Islands tusked weta, Motuweta isolata (Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae), a large flightless insect originally confined to 13 ha Middle Island in the Mercury Islands, New Zealand, was last seen there in January 2001. Half-grown or larger insects from a captive-breeding programme were released onto nearby Red Mercury Island (34 ♀, 16 ♂) and Double Island (65 ♀, 19 ♂) in 2000 and 2001 to reduce the potential for accidental extinction. Most (108) were released under individual artificial cover objects (ACOs)—clear Perspex discs under plastic plant-pot saucers—and 26 were placed in artificial holes in soil. Usually <10% were found again under ACOs for up to 18 months including 7.5 months as adults. Adults, found in 2005 and 2006, were 1st to 3rd generation island-bred weta (lifespan 1.7–3.2 years). Ongoing monitoring is planned to confirm long-term success. Inbreeding depression is likely so supplementation from Middle Island is required but they may be extinct there. Scraping the soil to expose weta in underground galleries was the best monitoring method. Few were found by searching with lights at night but adults could be located by following other adults equipped with harmonic radar transponders or micro-transmitters.

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Acknowledgements

We are indebted to Graeme Murtagh, Daryl Gwynne and Richard Overwijnk (volunteers); Corinne Watts, Katie Cartner and Chris Winks (Landcare Research Ltd); D. Paul Barrett, Suzanne Bassett, Grant Blackwell, Esta Chappell, Philip Eades, Jens Jorgensen, Matthew Lowe, Melissa Thompson, Mark Fraser and Matthew Wong (Massey University); Katrina Hansen, Maree Hunt, Leigh Marshall, Kahori Nagakawa, Richard Parrish and Greg Sherley (DOC); and Paul A. Barrett (Auckland Zoological Park) for help, often in difficult conditions, with field work. We thank Jens Jorgensen for constructing the predator exclusion cage on Red Mercury Island, Rod Ray (Mercury Seafaris) and Russell Clague (Matarangi Charters) for transport to the island, and Chris Edkins (DOC) for preparing the figures. Many of the methods and ideas originated during discussions with other members of the Tusked Weta Recovery Group—Avi Holzapfel, Chris Green, Chris Smuts-Kennedy, Jason Roxburgh (DOC) and Chris Winks—and we thank them for their contributions and support. We thank Mary McIntyre (University of Otago) for providing unpublished information and advice on tusked weta; and George Gibbs, Chris Green, Ian Mclean, Nicola Nelson and Lisa Sinclair for helpful criticism of the text. Financial support was provided by DOC (Investigation Number 3124) and Massey University.

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Correspondence to Ian A. N. Stringer.

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Stringer, I.A.N., Chappell, R. Possible rescue from extinction: transfer of a rare New Zealand tusked weta to islands in the Mercury group. J Insect Conserv 12, 371–382 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-008-9149-2

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Keywords

  • Relocation
  • Island conservation
  • Monitoring
  • Harmonic radar
  • Radio-tracking