How the Yellowhammer became a Kiwi: the history of an alien bird invasion revealed
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New Zealand harbours a considerable number of alien plants and animals, and is often used as a model region for studies on factors determining the outcome of introductions. Alien birds have been a particular focus of research attention, especially to understand the effect of propagule pressure, as records exist for the numbers of birds introduced to New Zealand. However, studies have relied on compilations of bird numbers, rather than on primary data. Here, we present a case study of the alien yellowhammer (Emberiza citrinella) introduced from the UK to New Zealand, to demonstrate how recourse to the primary literature highlights significant data gaps and misinterpretations in these compilations. We show that the history of the introduction, establishment and spread of the yellowhammer in New Zealand can be reconstructed with surprising precision, including details of the ships importing yellowhammers, their survival rates on board, the numbers and locations of release, and the development of public perception of the species. We demonstrate that not all birds imported were released, as some died or were re-transported to Australia, and that some birds thought to be introductions were in fact translocations of individuals captured in one region of New Zealand for liberation in another. Our study confirms the potential of precise historical reconstructions that, if done for all species, would address criticisms of historical data in the evidence base for the effect of propagule pressure on establishment success for alien populations.
- RESEARCH: CIB Associates