A chance discovery and a new survey by University of Canterbury students have shown that both the range and abundance of native bird species have increased at the university’s Ilam campus almost 500 per cent in the last 26 years.
Last year, as part of a lab exercise for Biology 273 (New Zealand Biodiversity and Biosecurity), a group of UC students created a bird atlas of the UC campus and compared it to a similar atlas from 1990 (by Krystyna Dodunski, a former Zoology student).
The results of the survey indicate that in the 26 years that have passed all native species increased in range and abundance, with an increase of almost 500% in the total number of native birds observed. One species, the bellbird, is now in the early stages of colonising campus. And fantails, grey warblers and silvereyes have all become significantly more abundant on campus.
The greatest diversity of native birds occurred along the campus waterways. Professor Jim Briskie (School of Biological Sciences) says it is likely that the changes are a product of increased plantings of native trees (favoured by native birds) and decreased open space (habitat favoured by many introduced species). Maintaining and expanding native plantings at UC could also help to further increase the range of native birds, like the native pigeon or kererū.
Given the dependence of bellbirds on flowering and fruiting trees, Professor Briskie suggests it is worth considering plantings that provide this resource, and to ensure that the current small population of bellbirds does not disappear. Restoring species that formerly occurred in the Christchurch area but are now locally extinct could be a long-term goal for the management of the campus green spaces.