Nest box contentions: are nest boxes used by the species they target?
Nest boxes have grown in popularity as a habitat management tool in Australia during the last decade. This management use remains contentious because some studies suggest nest boxes are ineffective. There are three recent contentions: (i) nest boxes mostly benefit common species, (ii) exotic species may be dominant users of nest boxes, and (iii) species of conservation concern use nest boxes infrequently. We address these contentions using data from 1865 nest boxes involving eight nest box designs. These nest boxes were installed predominantly <200 m from a road in association with highway duplication and re-alignment across 16 projects in New South Wales. The Common Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecula) is the species of most relevance to contention 1. It used 9% of boxes overall including 26% of 'possum' designated boxes. The most frequent nest box users were small petaurid gliders (mostly Sugar Gliders, Petaurus breviceps) which used 63% of 'small glider' designated boxes. This nest box and another suited to the Sugar Glider comprised 40% of all boxes installed, so it is not surprising that this species might be a common user. Exotic species were uncommon users of the nest boxes enabling contention 2 to be rejected. Active hives of Feral Honeybees (Apis mellifera) occupied just 1% of boxes, and another 1% of boxes were used by introduced rodents and birds. The Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) is the species most relevant to contention 3. It was seen in 80 boxes across 11 projects, representing 7% of the three types most frequently used. These observations are not consistent with the third contention. Nest boxes can provide many important insights about the requirements and interactions of hollow-dependent fauna. However, they are not intended as an alternative to retaining hollow-bearing trees.