Vertebrate fauna associates of the wedge-tailed shearwater, Puffinus pacificus, colonies of Rottnest Island: influence of an ecosystem engineer

Wesley Bancroft, Dale Roberts, M.J. Garkaklis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Puffinus pacificus, engineer the ecosystem by digging burrows in which they nest. This has been previously shown to affect the soil and vegetation properties of their colonies. Here we report on field surveys employed to investigate how associated vertebrate fauna respond to physical habitat modification by shearwaters. The study area was species poor, with only one mammal, and three reptile species detected in 1440 Elliott trap and 720 pitfall trap nights across a 13-month period. Nineteen bird species were recorded from 98 survey days. Relative to an area of uncolonised heath, we observed an increase in the abundance of King's Skinks, Egernia kingii, and a decrease in the abundance of House Mice, Mus musculus, and West Coast Ctenotus, Ctenotus fallens, in the shearwater colony. The survival rates of King's Skinks and House Mice were not affected by Wedge-tailed Shearwater presence. Bird species richness was less in the colony (9.2 ±0.5 species month-I) than the heath (11.5 ±0.2 species month-I), and the composition of the two communities was different. We suggest that ecosystem engineering by Wedge-tailed Shearwaters is a major determinant of fauna associates of their colonies and offer direct and indirect mechanisms to explain the patterns of species occurrence observed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-29
JournalRoyal Society of Tasmania, Hobart. Papers and Proceedings
Volume142
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2008

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