Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Reptile Population for Hauraki Gulf Islands

A team of Massey University biologists is relocating more than 60 of the relatively rare Duvaucel’s geckos to Motuora and Tiritiri Matangi islands in the Hauraki Gulf. The transfer, along with that of a group of skinks, is aimed at helping protect the gecko population and enhance the reptile fauna of the islands, both of which are predator-free.
For Motuora it is part of ongoing restoration project. Although there are now only two native reptile species there, evidence suggests it was home to as many as 13 reptile species, including tuatara, before forest was cleared. Both islands are predator free.
Auckland Campus conservation biologists Dr Dianne Brunton and Dr Weihong Ji are conducting a reptile study and will be monitoring the geckos and skinks after they are released into their new island habitats. Dr Brunton describes the transfer as exciting and very important to both the species and the islands. “It will help to build a more complete ecology on both islands,” she says. “It’s also expected to help in rebuilding the populations of these species which have low reproduction rates.
The Massey scientists have been holding the geckos and skinks in quarantine to ensure they are disease-free, while preparing the islands for the transfer, checking existing species for diseases and carrying out night searches to collect other data on the habitat.
Duvaucel’s geckos are New Zealand’s largest, growing up to 16cm long and weighing up to 120g. They are sparsely distributed on the northeastern islands off the North Island and in Cook Strait. Project partners include the University, the Department of Conservation, Auckland Regional Council and the Motuora Restoration Society.

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