Fears over kiwi inbreeding

01:14, Oct 25 2011
SMALL FAMILY: The 1600 kiwi around New Zealand all originated from five Kapiti Island little spotted kiwi.
SMALL FAMILY: The 1600 kiwi around New Zealand all originated from five Kapiti Island little spotted kiwi.

A little spotted kiwi population bred from Kapiti Island could potentially be a ''worst case scenario'' of inbreeding, an expert says.

Helen Taylor is working on a PhD project investigating the effects of inbreeding on little spotted kiwi in the Zealandia sanctuary in Wellington and Long Island in the Marlborough Sounds.

The 1600 kiwi around New Zealand all originated from five Kapiti Island little spotted kiwi.

''Little spotted kiwi used to be widespread. The mainland population died out, but for some reason five kiwi that had previously been moved from the mainland to Kapiti Island survived. All the little spotted kiwi now are descendants from those birds.''

Little spotted kiwi have been on Long Island since 1982 when two males from Kapiti Island and one female from D'Urville Island were transferred to the island, Miss Taylor said.

By 1989 there were two pairs of kiwi on Long Island - one from D'Urville Island and one from Kapiti Island.

Advertisement

The 2011 population of little spotted kiwi on Long Island is estimated at 45 to 50, she said.

Genetic testing indicates all the kiwi are descendants from the Kapiti Island pair.

''Genetic testing has failed to find any evidence of D'Urville offspring surviving or reproducing which makes Long Island a potential worst case scenario, in that all the birds come from two founders.''

This is the first time the Long Island kiwi have been monitored and examined in terms of breeding and reproductive success, although at the start there did not appear to be any major defects in the birds breeding with their family members, Miss Taylor said.

Ten male kiwi were fitted with transmitters in June, and eight of those are believed to be nesting.

Cougarline skippers have been monitoring the kiwi weekly by listening to their transmitter signals.

The transmitter beeped at different rates depending on whether the kiwi were active, nesting or dead, she said.

''What's interesting is how early they have nested compared to the kiwi in Zealandia and Kapiti Island. It will be interesting to see if they will try to nest twice this season.''

She will spend this week on the island checking on the males, weighing the birds and taking feathers as part of a DNA sampling.

She hopes to be able to create a family tree of the Long Island little spotted kiwi, Miss Taylor said.

Fairfax Media