Hedgehog hunting: A glimpse into the hunt, the stomachs and the cool things you see in between

Posted by Cathy Nottingham @cathy28495357 

As I’m sure everyone knows, hedgehogs are out there in New Zealand ecosystems wreaking havoc every night munching their way through large volumes of invertebrates, with some lizards and birds thrown in for good measure. But what damage could they really be doing in cities? To get a clearer idea on what hedgehogs are eating in urban bush fragments, I have spent many hours over the last six months stumbling around at night hunting for them so that I can find out.

Hedgehog in hand

Let me tell you, hunting for hedgehogs is hard! They are small and cryptically coloured, making them difficult to spot amongst the vegetation and leaf litter on the forest floor. Fortunately, I have been lucky enough to have access to a thermal scope which shows anything warm as a bright white glow that is hard to miss.  With the scope I have seen many rats, mice, possums, cats (which often seem to be stalking us…) an elephant*, and many, many sleeping birds.  I have also managed to locate and pick up a number of hedgehogs.  Thank goodness for the scope! Many hedgehogs were seen glowing brightly through it, for me to only peer confused into the darkness, with my torch, wondering where on earth the hedgehog could be.  It sometimes took a second look to realise that the hedgehog was under the log in the bushes.  The great thing about hedgehog hunting is that once you have found them you can just walk up and pick them up (although using gloves is definitely required).

The thermal scope I used and a picture of a swan that I saw with it – you can see how brightly the swan glows

Hedghog under log

Hedgehog hiding under a log – I’m sure you will have no difficulty seeing it

So what have I found in all of my hedgehog stomachs**?  Lots of interesting things.  Hedgehogs seem to be hoovering up whatever they come across, including birds, lizards and invertebrates.  Some of the more interesting things I have found include bird feathers (with tissue attached) in three of my stomachs, another stomach with two lizard feet as well as a number of stomachs with weta in them.  I have also found some giant centipedes with some very pretty blue legs.  The more common things in the stomachs have been beetles, slugs and worms.

A foot of a skink and a giant centipede

There is so much cool stuff out there in our urban bush patches, and with hedgehogs around, anything at ground level is getting hoovered up pretty quickly.

Hedgehog

Hedgehog hoovering up some delicious invertebrates

Giant centipede

Giant centipede I saw while I was hunting for hedgehogs – it was about the length of my hand

 

Some more cool stuff that is in our bush when I was out at night hunting – a spider, puriri moth and a couple of weta

 

*Sadly not wandering, wildly in the bush.  Apparently, Western Springs has a great view into the elephant enclosure.  Disappointingly I only saw it once, although I went back to Western Springs a number of times to hunt for hedgehogs…

**Collected under UOA animal ethics approval 001896

 

cathyCathy is a MSc student in the Centre for Biodiversity & Biosecurity, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland. She is investigating the impact of hedgehogs in urban forest fragmentsShe is supervised by Margaret Stanley and Al Glen.

 

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Uncovering hidden gems

Posted by Cate Macinnis-Ng @LoraxCate

If you missed Ed Yong’s piece on his efforts to improve gender representation in his reporting in The Atlantic, you should check it out. In short, in late 2016, Ed analysed the proportion of quotes used in his stories from women for that year. At only 24%, he decided to do something about it and he’s since been spending more time seeking out women to interview. The good news is, Ed reports that it has only taken a little extra time to improve the balance and now he’s looking at seeking out other underrepresented groups. My favourite quote from the story is, ‘I assumed that my passive concern would be enough. Passive concern never is.’

Unfurling_Spiral_Fiddlehead_Fern_Frond

I was reminded of this when I was assigned my first paper to handle as an associate editor for the American Journal of Botany. It’s easiest to send papers to the big names but they are often too busy to review and that means less established researchers miss out on valuable learning opportunities. Positive responses to review requests are often more likely from PhD students and in my experience, quality of review if often as good, if not better than more senior researchers. Since finding suitable candidates can be a challenge, I put out a call on twitter.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

I’ve had a great response with heaps of retweets and about a dozen self-nominated volunteers. I’d love to add more people to this list so get in touch if you are keen.

It got me thinking that there are a number of simple things we can all do to avoid ‘passive concern’. Here are some ideas –

Early careeer researchers and PhD students

  • Be active on Twitter – bulid a following and a voice so people start to notice you. You never know when an opportunity may arise.
  • Contribute to blogs and other forms of more accessible communication. Rapid Ecology looks like an exciting new platform to do this. The Conversation and The Spinoff are other examples of places to have pieces published online.
  • Do media training so that you feel prepared when the time comes. Formal training will help you learn how to refine your message, improve your on-air performance, reduce use of jargon and be strategic about using media in career development and advancement. If you can’t find formal training, a local community or student radio station is a good place to practice being interviewed.
  • Add your name to databases like 500 Women Scientists’ Request a Scientist and Diversify EEB. You might not hear anything for a while but these lists do work – that’s how I got the invitation to be AE for AmJBot.
  • Don’t be afraid to remind more senior colleagues about being inclusive. For instance, if you are helping organise a symposium, suggest diversity is considered when invitations to speak and attend are sent out.

Established researchers

  • Consider diversity when appointing reviewers, inviting people to speak, suggesting people for committees, collaborators on projects – we need a diversity of voices in all scientific activities. Use Diversity EEB, request a scientist or other resources. If what you need doesn’t exist, consider building the resource.
  • Don’t be a broadcaster on Twitter. Broadcasters tweet about their own work but rarely engage with others. They are often high profile senior researchers. If your follower to followed ratio is high, you are not really listening to what people are saying on twitter.
  • Follow diverse voices on Twitter – seek out ECRs, women, POC, LBGTQ researchers to follow. I’ve learnt so much from twitter. If someone makes a good point, amplyfing it with a retweet is a good way to help diverse voices be heard.
  • If you are involved in a professional society, check out their equity and diversity statement. If they don’t have one, you could volunteer to help put one together.
  • Join the #KindnessInScience movement by improving the research culture in your institution by being more welcoming, respectful and responsible.

With a little bit of effort, we can all do our part to build a more equitable system. Do you have other simple ways to uncover hidden gems? Feel free to add other ideas in the comments below.

Dr Cate Macinnis-Ng is a Senior Lecturer and Rutherford Discovery Fellow, School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland she is also President of the New Zealand Ecological Society and PI in Te Pūnaha Matatini.  She is a plant ecophysiologist and ecohydrologist working on plant-climate interactions.

Ratting on Rakitu

Posted by James Russell @IsldJames

Last week I had the pleasure to finally visit an island I had long wanted to survey. My perverse reward was finding not one but two species of rats inhabiting the island. Rakitu lies off the east coast of Aotea (Great Barrier Island) – a remote island off the coast of a remote island. Its inverted shape; a valley in the centre surrounded by towering cliffs and tors, lends it English name of Arid Island. With delays to our expedition I was left wondering if the island ever wanted me to visit, but eventually we arrived and I had the pleasure of meeting the descendants of the previous owners also staying out there.

Rakitu as seen looking eastwards from Aotea
Rakitu as seen looking eastwards from Aotea (Source: NZ Herald)

The 328 hectare island was a major centre of Māori activity, and in colonial times was farmed through its central valley and slopes. In 1993 the island was purchased to be managed by the New Zealand Department of Conservation where today it is an open access scenic reserve. Black rats (Rattus rattus) were long known to be present, and our team wanted to assess their abundance, and their impacts on the abundance of native birds, reptiles and invertebrates.

Rakitu cove provides a sheltered and welcoming anchorage
Rakitu cove provides a sheltered and welcoming anchorage (Source: James Russell)

Using an intensive 25 metre trapping grid in the remaining rich native forest in Bush creek, we studied the rat population. Checking only 37 live traps took the entire day, every day. To our surprise, on the first day, we caught a small number of Pacific rats (Rattus exulans) in the forest. This species would have been introduced during Māori occupation, and so it was a surprise that it had never been recorded when its presence was likely, but the abundance of the much larger black rats masked the presence of Pacific rats (locally known as kiore) for a long time, as known from elsewhere. Indeed, the black rats on Rakitu are among the largest ever recorded in New Zealand, averaging over 200 grams weight, and the most dense, at over 20 per hectare. The Department of Conservation intends to eradicate the rats from the island this winter, which is urgent given the declines in bird species and reptiles we were also observing on the island.

Kereru (native wood pigeons) are one of the few bird species still thriving on Rakitu, due to their large body size
Kereru (native wood pigeons) are one of the few bird species still thriving on Rakitu, due to their large body size (Photo: James Russell)

Given the extremely challenging terrain (with locations inaccessible to humans where rats could evade trapping) and size of the island (over 4,000 traps would be required if it was even possible), the only way rat eradication (every last rat removed) can be guaranteed would be by aerial distribution of brodifacoum. Some of the local community on Aotea are fundamentally against poison, which as a principle is laudable (poisoning an environment or species is never good). However, evidence from over 100 rat species eradications on islands around New Zealand for over 50 years shows no long-term effects of one-off brodifacoum use for rat eradications. The evidence does show, however, many, many long-term benefits to the resident native species on all those islands. The dilemma is thus not poison or not poison, but poison or rats?

Pāteke (native brown teal) struggle to breed on Rakitu in the presence of rats, with only one pair present
Pāteke (native brown teal) struggle to breed on Rakitu in the presence of rats, with only one pair present (Photo: James Russell)

Originally posted on National Geographic Voices