Ecology, Taxonomic Status, and Conservation of the South Georgian Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides georgicus) in New Zealand
Procellariiformes is a diverse order of seabirds under considerable pressure from onshore and offshore threats. New Zealand hosts a large and diverse community of Procellariiformes, but many species are at risk of extinction. In this thesis, I aim to provide an overview of threats and conservation actions of New Zealand’s Procellariiformes in general, and an assessment of the remaining terrestrial threats to the South Georgian Diving Petrel (Pelecanoides georgicus; SGDP), a Nationally Critical Procellariiform species restricted to Codfish Island (Whenua Hou), post invasive species eradication efforts in particular. I reviewed 145 references and assessed 14 current threats and 13 conservation actions of New Zealand’s Procellariiformes (n = 48) in a meta-analysis. I then assessed the terrestrial threats to the SGDP by analysing the influence of five physical, three competition, and three plant variables on nest-site selection using an information theoretic approach. Furthermore, I assessed the impacts of interspecific interactions at 20 SGDP burrows using remote cameras. Finally, to address species limits within the SGDP complex, I measured phenotypic differences (10 biometric and eight plumage characters) in 80 live birds and 53 study skins, as conservation prioritisation relies on accurate taxonomic classification. The results from the meta-analysis revealed that New Zealand’s Procellariiformes are at risk from various threats (x̅= 5.50 ± 0.34), but species also receive aid from several conservation actions (x̅= 7.19 ± 0.33). Results from a logistic regression showed that smaller species are more threatened onshore than offshore. The majority of the conservation actions appear in place where needed. However, habitat management, native predator control and the mitigation of risks associated with environmental stochasticity may need improvement. Analysis of SGDP nest-site selection showed dependency on mobile, steep, seaward-facing foredunes. Invasive plant species, the presence of conspecifics, or the presence of other seabird species did not influence SGDP nest-site selection. Assessment of interspecific interactions at SGDP burrows showed seven species occurring at burrows, but only Common Diving Petrels (P. urinatrix; CDP) interfered with SGDP breeding success. Assessment of phenotypic differences within the SGDP revealed that the New Zealand SGDP population differs in five biometric and three plumage characters from all other populations and warrants species status based on a species delimitation test with quantitative criteria. I propose to name this Critically Endangered species Pelecanoides taylorii sp. nov. These findings indicate that P. taylorii is of considerable conservation concern and additional measures, even after successful eradication of invasive species, may be required to safeguard this species. Based on the habitat preference, stochastic events, such as storms and storm surges, appear a major threat to P. taylorii. The assessed interspecific interactions at nest-sites, indicate competition with CDPs to be a minor threat. I propose a translocation as a potential strategy to relieve the pressure on P. taylorii, but further monitoring and research is needed to enable the implementation of such a conservation strategy.