Ecology of the Black-faced Sheathbill on Marion Island
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As the pace of climate change has begun to accelerate so too has it become clear that the direct impacts thereof are likely to have profound consequences for many island systems. Moreover, it has also been suggested that climate change will exacerbate the effects of many invasive species, so further impacting both diversity and ecosystem functioning. Forecasts for such interactions have been most pronounced for the Southern Ocean islands, which are home to a wide variety of endemic species. This thesis is about such interactions and their specific impacts on a key endemic, the black-faced sheathbill (Chionis minor) on the Prince Edward Islands. Of increasing concern is how invasive rodent populations in the Southern Ocean may be responding to global climate change, as ameliorating conditions on these islands are forecast to decrease thermal and resource restrictions on rodents. However, firm evidence for changing rodent populations in response to climate change, and demonstrations of associated impacts on the terrestrial environment, are entirely absent for the region. In Chapter 2 of this thesis, these relationships are explored for invasive house mice (Mus musculus) on Marion Island. Using spatially explicit capture-recapture modeling, it is determined that mouse populations across a range of habitats have increased over time. Owing to an extended breeding season, made possible by ameliorating conditions brought on by climate change, the total number of mice on the island at annual peak density more than doubled over the past decade. It is also demonstrated that mice directly reduce invertebrate densities, with biomass losses up to two orders of magnitude in some habitats. Because of the importance of invertebrates to nutrient cycling on the island, such changes are likely to have significant ecosystem-level impacts.