PFBP is tackling a big job, which means that we need to be at the front-end of research to help us make sure we have every edge and advantage. Working with research students is an essential part of the mahi because it’s shared knowledge that will help all of Aotearoa achieve the goal of being Predator Free. We need to be at the forefront of technology and research if we are to make meaningful changes to save our biodiversity. We would like to acknowledge some of this work by introducing Lincoln University MSc student Mel Barnett. We’ll leave Mel to tell her story.

Photo: Mel adjusting one of the PFBP cameras used for monitoring (Credit: Mel Barnett)

Tell us a little bit about yourself and why you have decided to study in this area?

I'm studying a Master of Science (Conservation and Ecology) through Lincoln University. I've always enjoyed the outdoors (camping, tramping, trail running) and have been fortunate to have been part of some amazing Department of Conservation volunteer opportunities over the last 10 years, including D'Urville Island Habitat Restoration, Port Craig and South Coast Track Maintenance, Milford/Fiordland Historic Maintenance, and Yellow-eyed Penguin/Hoiho Annual Nest Search in the Catlins.

I find fulfilment in meaningful work, seeing tangible results and enjoy getting out of the office. When it was time for a new career direction, I already knew the conservation/pest management/outdoors was something I was highly interested in, and my DOC volunteer experiences had been incredibly rewarding, so the next step was to turn that enjoyment into a career. This led me back to Lincoln, nearly 10 years after completing my undergraduate degree there. After initially intending to complete a Master of Pest Management (Vertebrates), a taught Masters programme, I made the switch to challenge myself with a research based Master's and undertake a thesis.

While it is early days and the write up part of my thesis is a good while away yet, I am thoroughly enjoying the research element of my thesis. It is hard to complain when spending beautiful sunny days at Kaitōrete and getting the opportunity to gain experience alongside the knowledgeable PFBP team.

Photo: The camera is watching what happens around the trap and the lure (Credit: Mel Barnett)

That’s just as well for us then! We’re glad you’ve chosen to work with us. What are you looking to achieve with your research?

As part of a network of 280 PFBP traps which are being set up at Kaitōrete, I will be utilising the first 50 to go live, which are down the Western end of Kaitōrete.

My research will aim to see if the use of external automated lure dispensers (ZIP Motolures) to supplement various ground-based traps (kill traps and live traps) will increase capture rates for hedgehogs, mustelids, possums and feral cats at Kaitōrete, Banks Peninsula.

Basically, we are hoping that a motolure outside on its own will be less threatening for an individual to want to check out, rather than entering a trap/foreign object to check it out. If they like the mayonnaise they get from the external motolure so much, hopefully that will convince them to go inside the trap to get more mayo from the dispenser inside the trap, resulting in increased capture rates and perhaps catching more shy/cautious individuals who would otherwise not interact with a trap.

My research questions include: 

  • Which of the three trap types (Holden live trap, Podi kill trap, live capture cage trap) has the highest capture rates for each species (hedgehogs, mustelids, possums, feral cats)? 
  • How does the addition of the external Motolure impact the capture rates for each species (hedgehogs, mustelids, possums, feral cats)? 
  • Does the addition of the Motolure change the ratio of non-target species being captured?

These will likely be extended once we get data in and see what else we can utilise the data for.

Traps have been placed at approximately 100m spacing at the western end of Kaitōrete and prefeed twice per day for 3-4 weeks using ZIP Motolures. (This has been done from mid Feb to mid-March). PFBP have had their own cameras collecting data during the prefeeding time.

Of the first 50 traps to go live, I have randomly selected 30 for my research (5 control, 5 test; 10 per trap type - Podi kill trap, live capture cage trap, Holden live trap).

The 15 control group traps (5 podi, 5 cage, 5 holden) will be set live and the ZIP motolures will continue to dispense mayonnaise twice per day as it has been doing during the prefeeding time.

For the 15 traps in the test group (5 podi, 5 cage, 5 holden), an additional Motolure will be set up approximately 30cm from the trap entrance and set to mimic the two times per day dispensing frequency.

All 30 selected will have cameras set up to collect footage. Data obtained from camera footage will be collected over a continuous  6-week period. Pending results from the first 30 traps, I intend to expand and replicate my fieldwork, either further east on Kaitōrete or at another site Pest Free Banks Peninsula are currently targeting.

Photo: Adjusting the ZIP Moto-lure next to a Podi-Trap (Credit: Mel Barnett)

And anyone you’d like to thank or shout-out to for their support in your research?

I have been fortunate to have awesome support and expertise from Tim Sjoberg, John Williamson and the team at PFBP. Also from Dr James Ross who just as excited about this project as I am. Additionally, I have received the Lincoln University Research Masters Scholarship, the William Walter Dunsterville Scholarship, and the Forest and Bird Stocker Fund to support this research.

A word from us

We are really excited to see how Mel gets on with her trial and how we can better use our tools to make our trapping more efficient. All research insights take us that one step closer to achieving our pest free goal. Nau mai haere mai, Mel.