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Determining host plant preferences for the critically endangered Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) to assist reintroduction

Abstract

The Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) is one of the world’s rarest insects. However, the opportunity to reintroduce the species to Lord Howe Island, and commence the path to recovery, may occur within the next 5 years. Understanding the insect’s host plant and habitat preferences on Lord Howe Island is critical to maximising the likelihood of reintroduction success. However, very little ecological information was documented before the species became extinct on the island in the 1930s. Here we examine the Lord Howe Island stick insect’s preference for potential host plants, a key aspect of habitat suitability. We conducted preference trials using 15 common plant species found on Lord Howe Island. Both nymphs and adults consumed some but not all of these plant species. Nymphs were able to survive on 7 of these 15 plants for the duration of the 26-day trials although failed to survive on some of the plants most preferred by adults. Overall, these data reveal that there are numerous plants on Lord Howe Island that the stick insect can consume, though their suitability varies with different developmental stages of the insect. These data are encouraging for any future reintroduction attempts and would greatly aid the selection and monitoring of release sites.

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Acknowledgements

We thank the Lord Howe Island Board for permission to conduct the research (Permit No. LHIB 05/13), with special thanks to Hank Bower and Christo Haselden for their advice and assistance. We are also very grateful to Ian Hutton, Scott Meier, Paul Gadsby and Melanie Tan for sharing their knowledge of the vegetation on Lord Howe Island.

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Correspondence to Michael J. L. Magrath.

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McGrath, S.J., Cleave, R.J., Elgar, M.A. et al. Determining host plant preferences for the critically endangered Lord Howe Island stick insect (Dryococelus australis) to assist reintroduction. J Insect Conserv 21, 791–799 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10841-017-0002-3

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Keywords

  • Insect performance
  • Habitat preference
  • Phasmid
  • Development
  • Survival