Diet overlap between coexisting populations of native blue ducks (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos) and introduced trout (family: Salmonidae) : assessing the potential for competition : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Massey University

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Massey University
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I investigated diet overlap between blue ducks and trout, to assess the possibility that introduced trout (Family: Salmonidae) may be acting as an agent-of-decline on New Zealand's endemic blue ducks (Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos). Blue ducks inhabit fast-flowing rivers and streams. Both rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta) were liberated into New Zealand's rivers and streams in the 1870s. Stream macroinvertebrates are consumed by both blue ducks and trout raising the possibility that the two animals may compete for food resources. The importance of different prey in the diets of trout and blue ducks was assessed both in terms of numbers of prey consumed and prey dry weight. To analyse each predator's diet in terms of prey dry weight, I developed regression equations for commonly eaten macroinvertebrates. These allowed for the estimation of dry weight from prey head width and body length measurements. A power equation, y = ax b is used to express the relationship. The precision of dry weight estimation varied between taxa ranging between ± 10% and ± 40%. For the majority of taxa, dry weight could be estimated with greatest precision from body length. The relative abundance of macroinvertebrate prey was measured in trout stomachs and faeces of adult blue ducks collected from Tongariro, Manganuiateao, Ikawetea and Makaroro Rivers in 1991/92. Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera larvae were the most abundant macroinvertebrate prey in the diet of blue ducks inhabiting all rivers. Diptera were also consumed in large numbers by blue ducks on Tongariro and Manganuiateao Rivers but were less important than Trichoptera and Ephemeroptera in terms of dry weight. Prey consumed by blue ducks were also of high importance in the diets of trout in all four rivers. A maximum diet overlap value of 0.69 (Schoener's index) was found using numeric data while a maximum value of 0.89 was found when dry weight data were examined. The highest overlap occurred between blue ducks and trout on Manganuiateao River. Blue ducks on all four rivers were found to take macroinvertebrates having a smaller mean body length than that occurring on average in the benthos. Trout were found to consume prey having a larger mean body length than that occurring in the benthos. The body length of prey consumed by trout was positively correlated with trout fork-lengths (rs = 0.49 p < 0.05). However, the mean body length of prey consumed by small trout (FL < 250mm) was significantly larger than that taken by blue ducks (T199 = -2.74 p = 0.007). To test the hypothesis that foraging by rainbow trout alters the composition of the aquatic macroinvertebrate community, data were compared from reaches of river above and below waterfalls on Ikawetea and Makaroro Rivers. Discriminant analysis indicated that the macroinvertebrate communities occurring in sections of river free of trout were not consistently dissimilar from those in sections inhabited by trout. However, an enclosure / exclosure experiment conducted in Tongariro River in April, 1993 found that in the absence of rainbow trout the density of Trichoptera, Ephemeroptera and Plecoptera in the benthos significantly (F2, 33 = 3.615 p = 0.038) increased. In addition, in those enclosures containing trout the density of large macroinvertebrates (body length > 7.1 mm) was less than in enclosures free of trout after 6 days. To examine the response of blue ducks to trout-induced changes in the benthos I conducted an experiment to assess the foraging behaviour of blue ducks in artificial stream channels varying in prey availability. Blue ducks showed a graded response in respect to relative food availability, with a significant correlation between prey density and number of foraging visits to channels (rs = 0.738, p < 0.05). In addition a significant correlation was found between the proportion of total foraging time spent in a channel and the proportion of total insect numbers in that channel (rs = 0.833, p < 0.05). For those endeavouring to develop a strategy to ensure the long term survival of this unique waterfowl my research indicates that where trout and blue ducks coexist resource partitioning may result in little interspecific competition occurring and hence competition appears unlikely to be a principal agent-of-decline of blue ducks.
Content removed due to copyright restriction: Appendix A: Towers, D. J., Henderson, I. M., & Veltman, C. J. (1994). Predicting dry weight of new zealand aquatic macroinvertebrates from linear dimensions. New Zealand Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research, 28(2), 159-166.
Rainbow trout, Brown trout, Endangered birds, Trout diet, Blue duck diet, Whio, Blue duck, Hymenolaimus malacorhynchos