Summer success for Wellington predator management

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington student Emily Chase spent her summer traipsing across the city, surveying 240 sites to figure out how effective predator management strategies have been in Wellington.

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington student Emily Chase spent her summer traipsing across the city, surveying 240 sites to figure out how effective predator management strategies have been in Wellington.

Chew card

Emily worked with Associate Professor Stephen Hartley from the School of Biological Sciences and several other researchers to monitor introduced mammalian predators (rats, mice, and hedgehogs) as well as native wētā across Wellington as part of the nationwide People, Cities and Nature project. In Wellington researchers are particularly interested in the efforts of Predator Free Wellington to eradicate rats on the Miramar peninsula, and what benefits these efforts might have for native biodiversity.

“The project I was working on was fieldwork based, which was great because I got to spend the summer outdoors—except when it was pouring with rain!” Emily says. “We would go out four times a week and set up monitoring equipment, and then collect it all six days later and analyse what we found in the lab.”

The results Emily, Associate Professor Hartley, and the team found showed that there had been a significant decrease in rats and mice in Miramar compared to other parts of the city.

“The rest of Wellington showed similar trends but the changes were not as dramatic, which tells us that the high intensity methods used across Miramar Peninsular are definitely paying off,” Emily says.

“At the time of our survey, rat numbers had been brought low enough in Miramar that we were no longer detecting them during our survey,” Associate Professor Hartley says. “Hedgehogs appeared unaffected, and wētā numbers were up inside special wētā ‘hotels’, which is similar to results from the rest of Wellington.”

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifted, the team hope to conduct a further survey, as well as combine their data with more research on the movement of urban mammals, Associate Professor Hartley says.

Emily’s time on the project was funded by a University Summer Research Scholarship in association with Wellington City Council. These scholarships provide funding for University students to take part in different research projects led by University researchers and community organisations over Trimester 3.

“I was really keen to get more practical experience to complement my undergraduate studies, and was also curious for a taste of what it would be like to undertake a Master’s thesis project,” Emily says. “The summer scholarship was the perfect opportunity to do those things and to also get to know some Master’s students and find out what their experiences of postgraduate study were like.”

“The entire scholarship was a huge learning curve for me, because I didn't know much at all about monitoring mammalian predators,” Emily says. “I learnt how to identify different species based on their footprints in tracking tunnels, and their bite marks on chew cards, which was very cool, and I think will be a really useful skill for me in the future.”

As well as a new learning experience, Emily also came out of the summer an award winner. The poster she created to communicate her research saw Emily named the winner of Science, Engineering, and Health group 2 in the Summer Gold Awards. These awards celebrate research done by University summer research scholars every year.

“I was very excited to win my section, considering there were such awesome entries from all the other summer scholars,” Emily says. “It’s a wonderful feeling to have that sort of formal recognition for the hard work you’ve put in.”