Invasion by the red-vented bulbul: an overview of recent studies in New Caledonia

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Available on line, Island invasives: scaling up to meet the challenge, pp. 282–288. Occasional Paper SSC no. 62. Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.
ISBN: 978-2-8317-1961-0
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Invasion by the red-vented bulbul: an overview of recent studies in New Caledonia

New Caledonia is a tropical archipelago of the South Pacific Ocean, and is one of the 36 world biodiversity hotspots. However, its unique biodiversity is increasingly threatened by habitat fragmentation and introductions of invasive alien species. Among these invaders, the red-vented bulbul (Pycnonotus cafer) is currently expanding towards the north of the main island. This passerine features in the IUCN-ISSG list of the 100 worst invasive species of the world because of impacts caused by its diet. Thirty-five years after its introduction, we present an overview of data from recent studies conducted in New Caledonia that describe the local status of the red-vented bulbul, its range expansion, and potential impacts on both the local biodiversity and agriculture. Biannual monitoring of the distribution coupled with surveillance at the edges of native forests highlighted a tight association of the bulbul with man-modified habitats. Using a distance sampling method, we estimated that bulbul densities within the distribution core varied from a peak of 200 individuals/km2 in the main city of Nouméa, where the species has been introduced, to 30 individuals/km2 in rural habitats located 50 km away from Nouméa. We conducted a diet analysis on 40 bulbul corpses and found that 82% and 55% of individuals had consumed plant and animal items, respectively. We identified plant and insect species that may be of concern in the contexts of seed dispersal and predation by the red-vented bulbul. Finally, a food colour selection experiment and an open field test showed that the red-vented bulbul had a significant preference for red and sweet fruits. We estimated the economic loss caused by bulbuls to a tomato grower and discuss the result with respect to the development of an adapted management strategy, to prevent further impacts of the red-vented bulbul on the biodiversity and agriculture in the tropical island hotspot of New Caledonia.

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