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Improving supplementary feeding in species conservation

Ewen, John G., Walker, Leila, Canessa, Stefano, Groombridge, Jim J.
Conservation biology 2015 v.29 no.2 pp. 341-349
Notiomystis cincta, decision making, dietary supplements, managers, monitoring, population dynamics, risk, risk reduction, New Zealand
Supplementary feeding is often a knee‐jerk reaction to population declines, and its application is not critically evaluated, leading to polarized views among managers on its usefulness. Here, we advocate a more strategic approach to supplementary feeding so that the choice to use it is clearly justified over, or in combination with, other management actions and the predicted consequences are then critically assessed following implementation. We propose combining methods from a set of specialist disciplines that will allow critical evaluation of the need, benefit, and risks of food supplementation. Through the use of nutritional ecology, population ecology, and structured decision making, conservation managers can make better choices about what and how to feed by estimating consequences on population recovery across a range of possible actions. This structured approach also informs targeted monitoring and more clearly allows supplementary feeding to be integrated in recovery plans and reduces the risk of inefficient decisions. In New Zealand, managers of the endangered Hihi (Notiomystis cincta) often rely on supplementary feeding to support reintroduced populations. On Kapiti island the reintroduced Hihi population has responded well to food supplementation, but the logistics of providing an increasing demand recently outstretched management capacity. To decide whether and how the feeding regime should be revised, managers used a structured decision making approach informed by population responses to alternative feeding regimes. The decision was made to reduce the spatial distribution of feeders and invest saved time in increasing volume of food delivered into a smaller core area. The approach used allowed a transparent and defendable management decision in regard to supplementary feeding, reflecting the multiple objectives of managers and their priorities.