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Age structure, dispersion and diet of a population of stoats (Mustela erminea) in southern Fiordland during the decline phase of the beechmast cycle

The dispersion, age structure and diet of stoats (Mustela erminea) in beech forest in the Borland and Grebe Valleys, Fiordland National Park, were examined during December and January 2000/01, 20 months after a heavy seed-fall in 1999. Thirty trap stations were set along a 38-km transect through almost continuous beech forest, at least 1 km apart. Mice were very scarce (<1 capture per 100 trap>nights, C/100TN) along two standard index lines placed at either end of the transect, compared with November 1999 (>60/100TN), but mice were detected (from footprints in stoat tunnels) along an 8 km central section of the transect (stations 14-22). Live trapping with one trap per station (total 317.5 trap nights) in December 2000 caught 2 female and 23 male stoats, of which 10 (including both females) were radio collared. The minimum range lengths of the two females along the transect represented by the trap line were 2.2 and 6.0 km; those of eight radio-tracked males averaged 2.9 ± 1.7 km. Stations 14-22 tended to be visited more often, by more marked individual stoats, than the other 21 stations. Fenn trapping at the same 30 sites, but with multiple traps per station (1333.5 trap nights), in late January 2001 collected carcasses of 35 males and 28 females (including 12 of the marked live-trapped ones). Another two marked males were recovered dead. The stoat population showed no sign of chronic nutritional stress (average fat reserve index = 2.8 on a scale of 1-4 where 4 = highest fat content); and only one of 63 guts analysed was empty. Nevertheless, all 76 stoats handled were adults with 1-3 cementum annuli in their teeth, showing that reproduction had failed that season. Prey categories recorded in descending frequency of occurrence were birds, carabid beetle (ground beetle), weta, possum, rat, and mouse. The frequencies of occurrence of mice and birds in the diet of these stoats (10% and 48%, respectively) were quite different from those in stoats collected in Pig Creek, a tributary of the Borland River (87%, 5%), 12 months previously when mice were still abundant. Five of the six stoat guts containing mice were collected within 1 km of stations 14-22.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Purdey, D.C., King, C.M. & Lawrence, B. (2004). Age structure, dispersion and diet of a population of stoats (Mustela erminea) in southern Fiordland during the decline phase of the beechmast cycle. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 31(3), 205-225.
RSNZ Publishing
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, New Zealand Journal of Zoology, 31(3), (2004), (c) Royal Society of New Zealand at the Royal Society of New Zealand Journals Onlinewebpages.