A review of biodiversity outcomes from possum-focused pest control in New Zealand.
Worldwide, introduced vertebrate pests impact primary production, native biodiversity, and human health. In New Zealand, extensive pest control (∼10 million ha) is undertaken to protect native biota and to prevent losses to the primary sector from wildlife vectors of bovine tuberculosis (TB), primarily possums (Trichosurus vulpecula). Control is conducted by TBfree New Zealand and by conservation agencies. Remote, forested terrain is treated using the toxin 1080 via aerial delivery in bait with a return time of ∼5 years. Ground-based control is conducted annually using traps and/or poison bait. Possums are controlled to very low abundance by these operations. Aerial 1080 is effective against another forest-dwelling vertebrate pest, the ship rat (Rattus rattus). Possum control has reduced TB rates, but collateral benefits for native biodiversity have not been quantified, making it difficult to demonstrate a return on investment. We review information from 47 accounts of responses of native biota to possum control. Of these, 60% quantified responses to aerial 1080; the remainder were ground-based. Possum control benefited vegetation by increasing foliage and fruit production, and by reducing tree mortality. Controlling ship rats and possums together improved bird populations, but rats recovered rapidly and long-term outcomes for rat-vulnerable birds are unknown. Large-bodied invertebrates also benefited from extensive pest control. We conducted a meta-analysis of 84 response measures from 35 of these 47 studies in order to provide a quantitative assessment of these findings. The analysis demonstrated that both ground and aerial control of this invasive pest in New Zealand has provided substantial collateral benefits for native biota. Few studies have taken advantage of decades of extensive pest control in New Zealand to monitor ecosystem-level outcomes, which have received only short-term attention thus far. Non-treatment experimental controls and replicate sites that enable validated assessments of outcomes for native biota are vital. Future studies would benefit from a standardised set of biodiversity indicators from a range of taxonomic and functional groupings, and from standardising experimental designs so individual studies can contribute to future meta-analyses, to strengthen the evidence base for the impacts of invasive pests on native biota in New Zealand and worldwide.