An Otago University student is dissecting stoats and examining their stomach contents in the name of science.
Jamie McAulay is researching the diet of stoats in alpine areas of Mt Aspiring, Fiordland, Nelson Lakes and Kahurangi national parks as part of the master’s degree he is studying for at the School of Wildlife Management.
He is working alongside the Department of Conservation’s Alpine Research Project. His work aims to address gaps in knowledge about stoat populations in alpine areas and the effect they are having on native species.
At the moment, stoat management practices in alpine regions were a “copy paste” of management work carried out on lower country, he said.
His research, which involves using biochemistry techniques to reveal the stomach contents of stoats from sites across four national parks, would provide a more detailed understanding of how the diets of stoats varied between different sites and across time periods. This would help ensure conservation resources were applied in the most efficient way, he said.
He has been working since the beginning of the year and has spent time both in the field and back at the laboratory. He was also sent numerous stoat carcasses trapped by Doc, conservation groups and volunteers.
The visual shock of finding a series of skink legs in the stoats’ stomaches was one of the most surprising aspects of his research, he said.
“I was pretty shocked at how many lizards were in the stomach of the stoats.
“We know stoats eat lizards but to cut one open and see all these feet .. ”
The vast area and the tough terrain made alpine regions a challenging place to work, he said, but it was important to protect the unique species, such as kea, rock wren, and alpine skinks, that called the area home.
“Those species don’t exist anywhere else on earth. If we lose them from here, they’re gone.”