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Survival, predation, and behaviour of the Mahoenui giant wētā ('Deinacrida mahoenui': Anostostomatidae: Orthoptera)

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Version 1 2021-12-08, 08:49
posted on 2023-09-22, 01:20 authored by Stilborn, Hannah

Introduced mammalian pests, such as rats (Rattus spp.), house mice (Mus musculus), brushtail possums (Trichosurus vulpecula), and European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus), have been implicated in the suppression or extinction of many endemic invertebrate species in New Zealand, including the large-bodied giant wētā (Anostostomatidae: Deinacrida). The Mahoenui giant wētā (MGW; D. mahoenui) is the only lowland giant wētā species still naturally present on the mainland of New Zealand, where the last remaining individuals of the original population are currently restricted to an 187ha mainland reserve (Mahoenui Giant Wētā Scientific Reserve; MGWSR) in Mahoenui, western King Country. Having sought refuge in the introduced woody shrub, gorse (Ulex europaeus), these wētā have survived in the presence of introduced mammalian predators for almost six decades. However, due to natural succession, the reserve is gradually reverting to native bush and wētā monitoring data shows potential signs of population decline. Concerns for the species survival have been raised as it is unknown how wētā will cope in an altered habitat alongside mammalian predators.  In chapter 2, we used 14-years’ of site-occupancy monitoring data to explore changes to the reserves’ gorse mosaic and MGW population. We additionally assessed the effect of abiotic covariates on MGW occupancy and detection probabilities in 2005 and 2018. Furthermore, we assessed mammalian pest population dynamics within the reserve over the past seven years. Significant changes to the reserve’s gorse mosaic were identified, whereby unbrowsed, tall bushes, which may provide less protection to wētā, are now dominant in 2018. Population trajectory analysis revealed the MGW population has decline since 2012. This result was consistent with naïve occupancy estimates and the increase in search time (0.3hrs/year) required to find wētā, suggesting the population is in a state of decline. Plot location was identified as an important covariate for predicting MGW occupancy in 2018, whereby plots in edge habitat, potentially being preferred or safer, had a higher occupancy probability. Mammalian pests (rats, house mice, brushtail possums, and European hedgehogs) appear to be present within the reserve year-round, populations peaking in summer and autumn.  In chapter 3, we used radiotelemetry to explore MGW survival rates, movement patterns, and diurnal refuge use in gorse and native vegetation during summer (n=14), autumn (n=31), and spring (n=10). Survival rates, in relation to predation, revealed MGW inhabiting native vegetation were nine times more likely to be predated than those inhabiting gorse. This result suggests native species such as mahoe (Melicytus ramiflorus), and tree ferns (Dicksonia fibrosa and Cyathea spp.) do not provide good protection to MGW from mammalian predators. Assessment of movement behaviour revealed MGW move less in autumn (~3m/48hrs) compared to summer (~10m/48hrs) and spring (~8m/48hrs), and most commonly follow a movement pattern consistent with random-walk. Movement behaviour was also found to be temperature dependant, with both male and female MGW moving significantly further in warmer weather (>13.5°C). Radiotracked MGW were found to take refuge above 2.5m in the canopy of native vegetation, whereas in gorse habitat, wētā were most commonly found taking refuge between 0.62 – 2.38m in the denser foliage of unbrowsed gorse bushes. Furthermore, no radiotracked wētā were observed with another individual in autumn, compared to eight and 26 observations in summer and spring.  In chapter 4, we attempted to identify potential mammalian predators of the MGW by analysing the stomach contents of ship rats (R. rattus; n=10), house mice (n=10), brushtail possums (n=5), and feral cats (Felis catus; n=2). Ship rats were identified as likely predators of MGW within the MGWSR. However, due to the limited number of stomachs and species analysed, further analysis is recommended. Collectively, these results provide an overview of the MGW reserve and population status, in addition to important ecological information that can be used to inform future management, monitoring, and translocation.


Copyright Date


Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Rights License

CC BY-NC 4.0

Degree Discipline

Ecology and Biodiversity

Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Master of Science

Victoria University of Wellington Unit

Centre for Biodiversity & Restoration of Ecology

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code


Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Research Masters Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Biological Sciences


Hartley, Stephen; Watts, Corinne