Red represents hope – good news for a rare species

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Like a bloodhound, sniffing out an elusive prey DOC biodiversity ranger Steve Deverell has been out hunting.  And the results of his efforts is good news for a rare species in the upper reaches of the Park.

His prey?  Native mistletoe.  Until recently only 24 red mistletoe plants have been found at Moa Park and Canaan.  Steve’s survey has doubled that to 50 plants – an indication the forest is recovering as a result of sustained pest control.

“It’s rewarding to do an extensive search and see that mistletoe are present in greater numbers than we were aware of and the plants we already knew about are healthy and recovering,” says Steve.

Mistletoes are pretty rare in the Abel Tasman thanks to a combination of possums, who love to browse on them, and stoats and rats reducing the populations of the birds who are responsible for pollinating them and dispersing the seeds.  Six mistletoe species have been found in the Park, the majority are beech mistletoes, including red mistletoe ( Peraxilla tetrapetala) and scarlet mistletoe (Peraxilla colenso)

It’s been two years since the last mistletoe survey. Steve says he initially focused on known plants which he remeasured. He then extended his range.

“Just like a more conventional hunter goes by instinct a lot of what I do is done on sense.  You get a feeling for what looks like mistletoe habitat.”

Apart from several plants within deer or goat range that had been browsed, most of the other plants Steve found looked healthy with vigorous new shoot growth. Where possum browse was observed, this was generally on plants located at the margins of the previous possum control operations

As well as extensive stoat trapping in the top of the Park there have been two aerial predator control operations fousing on rats and possums in the area where the mistletoe was found. Project Janszoon Operations Manager Andrew Macalister says the results are a reassurance animal pest control is keeping possum numbers low.  “To find healthy mistletoe, that hasn’t been chewed down to a stump is great,” he says.

Red mistletoe flowers represent hope, says Steve. Hope that there’s a good basis to build upon and possums aren’t crippling what is left. ”It takes a number of years for plants to produce new shoots and flowers from a previous browse event so the hope is we will see more mistletoe flowering. This enables us  to better judge how our work to restore the ecology of the Abel Tasman is going,” says Steve.

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