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The distinctiveness of New Zealand's large endemic orthopterans and lack of small mammals in our forest ecosystems led to the description of weta as ecologically equivalent to rodents in other countries. We review the use of this metaphor and the characteristics, such as diet and reproductive behaviour, given to support it. We note, however, that species are rarely specified when comparisons are made, thereby neglecting the ecological diversity of both weta and rodents. We suggest that if these taxa are to be compared, the details of their ecology are important and the scale of their influence in an ecosystem must be taken into account. We consider in particular the relevance of the 'invertebrate mouse' cliché in understanding evolutionary ecology in New Zealand and find it misleading. We show that reproductive potential and scale of change in population size differ greatly between mice and tree weta. We find that endothermic mice (Mus musculus) have a metabolic rate almost 20 times faster than ectothermic tree weta (Hemideina sp.), an intrinsic rate of increase some 275 times higher, and consume a high quality diet dominated by seeds and invertebrates and devoid of leaves, in contrast to tree weta diets. Comparative quantitative analyses of the influence of different animals on ecosystem services, biomass, nutrient cycling and energy turnover of forests in New Zealand and elsewhere will contribute to interpretation of the evolutionary history of the New Zealand biota.
302 New Zealand Journal of Ecology, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2011
Exploring the concept of niche convergence in a land without rodents:
the case of weta as small mammals
Melissa J. Grifn, Steve A. Trewick*, Priscilla M. Wehi and Mary Morgan-Richards
Ecology Group, Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston North, New Zealand
*Author for correspondence:
Published on-line: 21 March 2011
Abstract: The distinctiveness of New Zealand’s large endemic orthopterans and lack of small mammals in
our forest ecosystems led to the description of weta as ecologically equivalent to rodents in other countries.
We review the use of this metaphor and the characteristics, such as diet and reproductive behaviour, given to
support it. We note, however, that species are rarely specied when comparisons are made, thereby neglecting
the ecological diversity of both weta and rodents. We suggest that if these taxa are to be compared, the details
of their ecology are important and the scale of their inuence in an ecosystem must be taken into account. We
consider in particular the relevance of the ‘invertebrate mouse’ cliché in understanding evolutionary ecology
in New Zealand and nd it misleading. We show that reproductive potential and scale of change in population
size differ greatly between mice and tree weta. We nd that endothermic mice (Mus musculus) have a metabolic
rate almost 20 times faster than ectothermic tree weta (Hemideina sp.), an intrinsic rate of increase some 275
times higher, and consume a high quality diet dominated by seeds and invertebrates and devoid of leaves, in
contrast to tree weta diets. Comparative quantitative analyses of the inuence of different animals on ecosystem
services, biomass, nutrient cycling and energy turnover of forests in New Zealand and elsewhere will contribute
to interpretation of the evolutionary history of the New Zealand biota.
Keywords: Anostostomatidae; ecosystem function; invertebrate mice; New Zealand; niche; omnivory
The fauna of New Zealand is widely recognised as distinctive
and unusual in terms of composition and ecology (Daugherty
et al. 1993; Trewick & Morgan-Richards 2009; Wallis
& Trewick 2009 and refs therein). An example of this
distinctiveness is the prominent place in New Zealand’s
culture of certain Orthoptera and in particular members of
the family Anostostomatidae, known as weta1 (Johns 1997;
Trewick & Morgan-Richards 2009). Four groups of weta are
present in the New Zealand anostostomatid fauna; all are
ightless and nocturnal, and comprise 11 species of giant
weta (Deinacrida), seven tree weta species (Hemideina), three
tusked weta species (Anisoura, Motuweta) and approximately
40 species of ground weta (Hemiandrus). The prominence of
these large crickets in New Zealand contrasts with a natural
absence of small mammals, which in other parts of the world
are a major component of terrestrial ecosystems. This perhaps
explains why a comparison of these very different animals
has been made. In this paper we review the uses of the weta/
rodent or weta/small mammal comparison and consider its
relevance and value in understanding the evolutionary ecology
of New Zealand.
Immediately prior to the arrival of humans (c. 13th century
AD; Wilmshurst & Higham 2004) New Zealand had few
native mammals. Although at least one, probably ightless,
small mammal was present in the mid-Miocene (Worthy et al.
2006), abundant Holocene and late Pleistocene bone deposits
collected in caves, swamps and dunes provide strong evidence
that terrestrial mammals were absent in more recent times
(Worthy & Holdaway 2002). Thus, the recent evolutionary
history of New Zealand’s biota has proceeded without a
well-developed mammalian fauna. Inferred outcomes of this
situation include a relatively high diversity of ightless birds
and the occupation by non-mammalian taxa of ecological
niche space utilised by mammals elsewhere in the world
(Diamond 1990). For example, some small birds, such as the
now extinct Stephens Island wren, Traversia lyalli, are said
to have had a niche parallel to that of small mammals such
as mice and rats (Diamond 1990). At the other size extreme,
New Zealand moa (Dinornithiformes) have been described
as occupying the niche of ungulates (Ramsay 1978), and the
unique characteristics of the kiwi (Apteryx spp.) have seen it
given the status of honorary mammal (Calder 1978). There are,
however, few data that explicitly explore or test the accuracy
or relevance of such descriptions.
Probably the most frequently cited example of putative
niche convergence involves the comparison of weta with
rats (Ramsay 1978; Southern 1979; Daugherty et al. 1993),
mice (Fleming 1973, 1977; King 1974, 1991; Ramsay 1978;
Southern 1979; Daugherty et al. 1993), rodents (Ramsay
1978; Stevens 1980; Daugherty et al. 1993; Guignion 2005),
and small mammals generally (Fleming 1973; Southern 1979;
Duthie et al. 2006; King et al. 2011) including voles (Fleming
1977; King 1974). In the more recent literature, most authors
simply acknowledge these comparisons without necessarily
1 The Maori name weta is applied to Orthoptera of two species-rich cricket families, Anostostomatidae and Rhaphidophoridae, but the latter are usually
called ‘cave weta’. Cave weta have not been compared to small mammals.
New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2011) 35(3): 302-307 © New Zealand Ecological Society.
Available on-line at:
Grifn et al.: ‘Invertebrate mice’
supporting such a treatment (e.g. Trewick & Morgan-Richards
2005; Watts et al. 2008a, b; Gibbs 2010), whereas at least
one author marginalised the proposition, stating that when
Pacic rats (Rattus exulans) invaded New Zealand, the ‘rodent
niche was empty’ (Gibbs 2009). We believe that comparisons
between weta and various small mammals might be useful if
they lead to a better understanding of niche convergence, or
the ecology and potential ecosystem services of weta within
the New Zealand forest ecosystem, including diet and seed
dispersal studies, as seeds are an important part of rodent diet
(Trewick & Morgan-Richards 2004).
Basis for the metaphor
Reference to weta as equivalent to some form of small mammal
is rst attributed to H.N. Southern in 1964 (Fleming 1973;
Ramsay 1978). Since then various characteristics of weta have
been used as putative evidence for their rodent-like nature.
These include nocturnal foraging (Fleming 1977; Ramsay
1978; Stevens 1980; Daugherty et al. 1993; McIntyre 2001),
occupation of diverse habitats (Fleming 1977), retreat to
daytime roosts (Fleming 1977; Stevens 1980; Daugherty et al.
1993), frass similar in size to rodent droppings (Fleming 1977;
Ramsay 1978; Southern 1979; Stevens 1980; Daugherty et al.
1993), combined biomass (Ramsay 1978; Daugherty et al.
1993), polygamous reproduction (Ramsay 1978; Daugherty
et al. 1993), omnivory (Ramsay 1978; McIntyre 2001),
relatively large individual size (McIntyre 2001), nocturnal
terrestrial activity (McIntyre 2001) and seed dispersal (Duthie
et al. 2006). Each of these features characterise only partially
or inconsistently the subjects being compared and are founded
on few if any data.
Validity of the metaphor: weta as small
An initial and important difculty with the comparison of weta
with small mammals is that it is vague. Reference to small
mammals (e.g. Duthie et al. 2006) is misleading because there
are many species in this diffuse group (Pough et al. 2005). Even
reference to rodents potentially encompasses an ecologically
diverse range of species. Among approximately 5000 species of
mammals (Delany 1974; Stoddart 1979) there are some 1814
rodents, ranging in size from 4 g to 50 kg (Ellenbroek 1980;
Pough et al. 2005), and most are described as small mammals.
Similarly, the species of weta used in the metaphor vary; tree
(Hemideina sp.) and giant weta (Deinacrida sp.) are often
cited in comparisons (e.g. Southern 1979; Daugherty et al.
1993; Morgan-Richards 1997), but generalisation as ‘weta’
is also commonplace (e.g. Fleming 1973; King 1991; Burns
2006). Failure to qualify which species are being discussed
means that interesting diversity in weta habits is not addressed.
For instance diet, which is a commonly used parameter in
ecological niche construction, cannot be addressed using
this loose terminology. Ground weta (Hemiandrus sp.) and
tusked weta (Anisoura, Motuweta) are primarily predators or
scavengers of animal foods (Cary 1983; Winks et al. 2002),
whereas tree and giant weta are unusual among their family
in eating leaves (Green 2005; Trewick & Morgan-Richards
2005; Wilson & Jamieson 2005; Wehi & Hicks 2010). The
diets of small mammals are similarly diverse; 7 g common
shrews (Sorex araenus) consume terrestrial arthropods and
earthworms (Malmquist 1985), whereas 15 g house mice (Mus
domesticus) are omnivores with a large proportion of their diet
consisting of seeds when available (Badan 1986; Tann et al.
1991). The various species of weta range in size from less than
one gram to more than 50 g. Small mammals that also span this
range include the common shrew, Sorex araneus, and pygmy
shrew, S. minutus (7 g and 4 g respectively; Dickman 1988),
Mus musculus (15 g; Hamilton & Bronson 1985) and the bank
vole, Myodes glareolus (23 g; Verhagen et al. 1986).The largest
weta are about one-third the size of the smallest rat (Rattus
exulans) in New Zealand (130 g; McCallum 1986).
Does the phrase ‘invertebrate mice’ help our science or
our understanding?
Although the comparison of weta to a particular mammal is
not consistent, the phrase ‘invertebrate mice’ has become a
popular cliché (e.g. King 1974; Fleming 1977; Ramsay 1978)
and many authors have applied it even when making non-
mouse comparisons (e.g. King 1974; Fleming 1977, referred
to voles). Despite this inconsistency, we shall focus here on
mice (Mus) and tree weta (Hemideina). Tree weta species
have allopatric or parapatric distributions (their ranges rarely
overlap) and this suggests the biology of each species is very
similar and thus subject to competitive exclusion where they
meet (Trewick & Morgan-Richards 1995, 2004, 2005). In
contrast, the co-occurrence of tree weta and introduced mice
in New Zealand suggests they are not in competition for
resources. Major differences between tree weta and mice limit
the usefulness of this comparison and may also allow them to
exist in sympatry. The fecundity, energetics, and abundance of
tree weta and mice are very different and putative similarity
of some other traits provides only partial insight because the
scale of inuence within an ecosystem may be very different
(Table 1). For instance, while mice and tree weta have some
similarity in their predation of seeds (e.g. in New Zealand,
tree weta Hemideina thoracica and mice Mus spp. both eat
seeds of kauri and rimu; Mirams 1957; Beveridge 1964; Badan
1986; Ruscoe et al. 2004), the quantitative effect that each has
upon the tree species is likely to differ.
Table 1. Summary of the differences between tree weta
(Hemideina spp.) and the mouse (Mus spp.). (Data from:
aMiller 1999; bRowe 2009; cRuscoe et al. 2004; dTownsend
et al. 1997, Moller 1985; eWyman 2009).
Mouse Tree weta
Weight 15 g 8 g
Rate of population r-selected k-selected
Metabolic rate
(ml g–1 h–1 O2) 2.27a 0.114b
Density (per hectare) 8–28c 180–5000d
Diet (per night/per 8000–28 000 20–500 g
hectare) seedsc leavese
34–120 g
304 New Zealand Journal of Ecology, Vol. 35, No. 3, 2011
Although body mass of Orthoptera and rodents converge at
about the size of small mice, the attributes of large insects and
small mammals are nevertheless very different. Tree weta and
mice are at different ends of their respective distributions, and
this highlights a difference that is expressed in their reproductive
capacity. Small Orthoptera (such as Gryllidae crickets) often
exhibit a ‘boom or bust lifestyle’ like many small mammals;
whereas larger Orthoptera, such as weta, tend to have slower
growth and lower replacement rates (Whitman 2008).
The potential reproductive rate of mice far exceeds that
of weta. Wild female mice (Mus musculus) become sexually
mature at about 60–70 days old (Bronson 1984), have a 3-week
gestation period, a litter size averaging six offspring and the
ability to become pregnant soon after giving birth (Pelikan
1981). The reproductive characteristics of mice compared
with other mammals can be characterised as r-selected,
with a high intrinsic rate of increase (MacArthur & Wilson
1967). In contrast, tree and giant weta take about one year to
reach sexual maturity, and once adult, probably experience
just one breeding season and are thus, compared with many
smaller Orthoptera, K-selected (MacArthur & Wilson 1967).
Although details of weta reproduction are scarce, for two
tree weta species held in captivity (Hemideina thoracica,
H. crassidens), between 34 and 120 eggs per female were laid
over approximately 6 weeks and hatching rates were between
zero and 70% (Morgan-Richards, unpubl. data). Two wild-
caught adult female tusked weta (Motuweta isolata) laid 153
eggs in captivity before death, although only 21 juveniles were
recovered and 15 reared to adults (Stringer 1998). Using the
tusked weta example, assuming 76 eggs per female and 100%
fertility and survival, and an equal sex ratio, we calculated
that a pair of tusked weta could in theory increase to 109 000
in 3 years. During the same time period a pair of mice (Mus
musculus) could generate a population of over 30 million.
The mouse intrinsic rate of increase is thus around 275 times
greater than the weta.
The reproductive capacity of mice (and many other
rodents) is highly responsive to short-term changes in resource
availability (also a characteristic of r-selected species;
MacArthur & Wilson 1967). As mice are not limited to seasonal
breeding they can respond to food abundance at any time of
the year (Brockie 1992). For example, in New Zealand, seed
masting of Nothofagus beech stimulates a rapid increase of
mice (King 1983; Choquenot & Ruscoe 2000; Ruscoe et al.
2005). There is no evidence that any weta do or could respond
to such resource uctuations in this way.
One reason that mice have such a high growth rate and
responsive reproductive rate is that they are endothermic.
Mammals expend a large proportion of the energy they consume
maintaining their high body temperature (Bennett & Ruben
1979; Pough et al. 2005). Small mammals, such as mice, are at
the physiological limits for vertebrate endotherms (cf. reptiles
and amphibians) because their relatively large surface area
to volume ratio results in inefciency, compared with larger
endotherms, and requires consumption of disproportionately
large amounts of food to maintain their metabolic rate (Pough
1980; Pough et al. 2005). While some large mammals are leaf
eaters, leaves do not appear to be sufciently high quality food
sources for small mammals. In this respect elephants could
be considered a more appropriate mammalian equivalent of
giant weta (Deinacrida spp.), in contrast to mice that consume
a range of energy-rich foods, including insects and seeds.
Ectotherms use solar energy as a heat source, so most of the
energy they ingest goes to growth and reproduction (Pough
1980; Pough et al. 2005). This greater energy conversion
efciency means that insects such as tree weta and giant weta
can exist in thermodynamically demanding temperate and
alpine environments even when consuming mainly leaves
(e.g. Trewick & Morgan-Richards 1995; Sinclair et al. 1999;
Joyce et al. 2004). However, the ability to survive in these
circumstances is accompanied by relatively slow growth
of individuals and populations. Even if tree weta and mice
consumed the same types of food (which does not appear
to be the case), their respective effects on the environment
would be different.
The different energy requirements of these animals are
reected in their metabolic rates. Wild house mice have an
average resting metabolic rate of 2.27 ml g–1 h–1 O2, and to
sustain this, mice in New Zealand need to consume about 91
kJ day–1 (Miller 1999). On a diet of seeds alone, this equates
to 3 g dry weight per day of rimu (Dacrydium capressinum)
seeds (30 kJ g–1 rimu seed; Ruscoe et al. 2004) or approximately
970 seeds (Ruscoe et al. 2004). An invertebrate-only diet
requires 4.3 g day–1 (dry mass; Miller 1999). One investigation
of mice in New Zealand found that they ate a mixed diet of
adult arthropods, larva of Lepidoptera and seeds in exotic pine
(Pinus radiata) plantations and native kauri (Agathis australis)
forests (Badan 1986). Diets of mice and ship rats on Rangitoto
Island were shown to consist primarily of invertebrates, with
tree weta (Hemideina thoracica) being the most common
species consumed (Miller & Miller 1995).
Equivalent information on weta is scarce. However,
comparable data for Romalea guttata, a large, herbivorous,
North American grasshopper, where females weigh up to 6 g
(similar to the weight of adult tree weta and Mus musculus),
are available (Hadley & Quinlan 1993). In this case, resting
metabolic rate measured at 25°C was found to be 0.125
ml g–1 h–1 O2 (Hadley & Quinlan 1993). Recent investigation
into the metabolism of tree weta (Hemideina crassidens, H.
thoracica) yielded a similar estimate of 0.114 ml g–1 h–1 O2
at 16°C (Rowe 2009). This is about 0.05 the rate in mice.
Individual tree weta (H. crassidens, H. thoracica) in captivity
consume approximately 30 times less food than a mouse
(average of 0.1 g (wet weight) of leaf material per weta per
night at 14°C; Wyman 2009).
Environmental impacts
There are clearly major reproductive and thermodynamic
differences between mice and tree weta and we expect these to
be reected in the impact of these animals on the ecosystem they
occupy. However, there are currently few data for comparison
even in terms of population densities of mice and weta. The data
that do exist indicate considerable variation in space and time.
For example, mouse densities range from 8 to 28 per hectare
in Waitutu Forest, South Island, New Zealand (Ruscoe et al.
2004). In contrast, estimates of tree weta densities range from
180 weta ha–1 on Banks Peninsula, South Island (Townsend
et al. 1997) to over 5000 weta ha–1 on an island lacking native
and introduced predators (Moller 1985). Thus we infer that
each night mice may be consuming 8000–28 000 tree-seeds
or 60–220 g (wet weight, assuming 80% water) of arthropods
per hectare, while at the same time tree weta may be eating
between 20 and 500 g of leaf material.
Although tree and giant weta appear to disperse and
Grifn et al.: ‘Invertebrate mice’
also predate seeds like some mammals (Duthie et al. 2006;
Wyman et al. 2010), their inuence depends on the number
of seeds consumed and destroyed and the distance travelled.
In tree weta the number of seeds eaten is probably low, the
proportion destroyed high and the distance travelled minimal
(Wyman et al. 2010), so their importance as seed dispersers
is likely to be low compared with other animals such as mice
and native birds. However, data for comparison of the actual
amount consumed by various animals or even home range
size are few. For example, estimates of mouse home ranges
of between 250 and 470 m2 (Maly et al. 1985; Mikesic &
Drickamer 1992) are not directly equivalent to data showing
nightly movements of tree weta of <12 m (Kelly 2006).
The usefulness of the comparison between the ecological niches
of weta and mice (and other small mammals) is constrained
by unspecic terminology and the supercial nature of
initial comparisons, which obscure much of the ecological
and evolutionary distinctiveness of weta. The very different
metabolic and reproductive rates and diets of these animals
(e.g. mice vs tree weta) likely mean they have signicantly
different impacts on ecosystems (summarised in Table 1).
Persistence of the invertebrate-mouse cliché, despite a lack
of supporting evidence for similarity, can best be attributed to
lack of knowledge of weta. Thus studies of weta reproductive
strategies and mate choice, population size and dynamics,
fecundity, dietary repertoire, nutrient optimisation, and resource
partitioning among weta taxa deserve close attention. Suitable
data on these would also enable comparisons with taxa related
to weta that co-occur with native mammals in other parts of
the world (e.g. Australia).
Quantication of the effects that different weta species
have on seed predation and dispersal, pollination, predation,
and nutrient/energy cycling is critical and would enable
comparison with other animals in New Zealand ecosystems.
The co-occurrence of weta and introduced rodent species in
New Zealand today provides the experimental framework for
comparative analyses of the ecological niches occupied by
weta species and the energetics of New Zealand ecosystems.
This will in turn contribute to better interpretation of the
evolutionary history of the New Zealand biota and provide
an empirical basis for testing what are, in many cases to date,
ad hoc interpretations.
We thank Niki Minards for her helpful comments on the
manuscript and George Gibbs for getting us started. Two
anonymous referees helped improve the manuscript.PMW
is funded by New Zealand Foundation for Research Science
and Technology postdoctoral fellowship MAUX0905. MJG
is supported by a grant from the Entomological Society of
New Zealand.
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Editorial Board member: Angela Moles
Received 24 September 2010; accepted 16 December 2010
... Many insects use holes in the trunks and branches of trees as daytime refugia (Trewick & Morgan-Richards, 2000) and in New Zealand, nocturnal tree w et a (Hemideina spp.; orthoptera) are one of the most common groups to do so in lowland forests. Tree w et a (adult weights 2-6 g) likely play a pivotal role in forest ecosystem functioning by contributing to ecosystem services such as seed dispersal, nutrient cycling and herbivory (Duthie, Gibbs, & Burns, 2006;Griffin, Trewick, Wehi, & Morgan-Richards, 2011), but details are lacking. In the Indigenous M aori language, the common forest tree Carpodetus serratus has a number of names, four of which refer to the endemic tree w et a (hereafter "w et a"), suggesting a close association between plant and insect. ...
... The sheer number of refuge holes on C. serratus trees in North Island in particular means that individual trees may support a large number of w et a at any one time, resulting in loss of foliage and potentially fruit. Griffin et al. (2011) estimated that individual w et a consumed between 20 and 500 g of leaf material a night per hectare; our frass analysis suggests that w et a living on C. serratus trees are likely to eat locally, resulting in considerable loss of foliage, as well as potentially fruit, from a host tree. ...
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Drawing from both Indigenous and “Western” scientific knowledge offers the opportunity to better incorporate ecological systems knowledge into conservation science. Here, we demonstrate a “two‐eyed” approach that weaves Indigenous ecological knowledge (IK) with experimental data to provide detailed and comprehensive information about regional plant–insect interactions in New Zealand forests. We first examined Māori names for a common forest tree, Carpodetus serratus, that suggest a close species interaction between an herbivorous, hole‐dwelling insect, and host trees. We detected consistent regional variation in both Māori names for C. serratus and the plant–insect relationship that reflect Hemideina spp. abundances, mediated by the presence of a wood‐boring moth species. We found that in regions with moths C. serratus trees are home to more wētā than adjacent forest species and that these wētā readily ate C. serratus leaves, fruits and seeds. These findings confirm that a joint IK—experimental approach can stimulate new hypotheses and reveal spatially important ecological patterns. We recommend that conservation managers partner with local IK‐holders to develop two‐eyed seeing approaches that weave IK with quantitative data to assist planning and management. Next steps in our system could include assembling IK species names within each locality to construct a multilayered understanding of local ecosystems through an IK lens.
... Secondary succession could have supplied a great variety of food materials which favor population growth of different species. The results on similarities of small mammals in between different habitats indicate the health and state of wetlands and Vachellia/Miombo woodlands had rapid turnover rate, high biotic potential, ability to invade reclaimed areas and sensitivity to environmental disturbance (Griffin et al., 2011). Therefore, the three sampled habitats support small mammal's communities and represent area of considerable conservation importance. ...
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Habitat type and their vegetation composition play important role in determining the abundance and diversity of animals including small mammals, hence any change in habitat type will influence their abundance and spatial distribution. This study aimed at investigating the influence of habitat types (that is, Wetland grassland, Miombo and Vachellia woodlands) on small mammal abundance, diversity, and richness in the Usangu area, in southern part of Ruaha National Park, in Tanzania. Sherman and pitfall plastic bucket traps were employed both for trapping small mammals. A total of 92 small mammals were captured in 2124 trap nights giving 13% trap success representing two families, namely, Muridae (6 species) and Soricidae (1 species). Furthermore, trap success differed among habitat types with the highest being in wetland grassland. Species diversity was higher in Vachellia woodlands compared to other habitat types. It would therefore seem that wetland grassland and Vachellia woodland habitats are very crucial in maintaining small mammal abundance and diversity in Usangu Area. Therefore, future management plan should incorporate these refuge habitats for continued existence of small mammals in Usangu. Further study is warranted in wet season in order to have comparison information that will assist in management of small mammal in Usangu.
... However, increasingly, community groups prefer to use non-lethal tools for monitoring invertebrates before, during and after control of mammalian predators (Drinkwater et al. 2019). As large herbivores, potential seed dispersers and a food source for native birds, bats and reptiles, tree wētā are an important component of New Zealand forest-ecosystems (Griffin et al. 2011) that could offer a monitoring solution should standardised non-lethal methods be developed (Watts et al. 2017). ...
Wildlife sanctuaries in Aotearoa/New Zealand involve community groups that often prefer using non-lethal monitoring methods for invertebrates. We examined one method for monitoring tree wētā with the aim of improving monitoring design. Pest management at our study site did not vary for 10 years before our study and remained unchanged between sampling, so we assumed that abundance of tree wētā would not vary significantly over the four years of the study. We recorded occupancy and marked every tree wētā (Hemideina spp.) using the same set of 38 artificial tree-hole refuges (galleries) every 1–2 weeks. We tested the prediction that non-lethal monitoring of tree wētā is a suitable proxy for relative wētā abundance by comparing the number of tree wētā using the same galleries four years apart. As expected, no change in numbers of wētā was detected. However, the level of site/gallery fidelity, seasonal fluctuations and movement between artificial galleries suggest that monitoring design needs to incorporate the life history and behaviour of these insects. We recommend comparison of wētā occupancy be restricted to the same season, galleries be placed more than 50 m apart and checked only once or twice a year.
... Insects from the orthopteran family Anostostomatidae are collectively known in New Zealand by their Māori name, weta, and represent an important component of the native forest ecosystem [36]. All Tree (Hemideina) and Giant (Deinacrida) weta species are endemic to New Zealand, and include both relatively widespread and threatened species. ...
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Animal reproductive proteins, especially those in the seminal fluid, have been shown to have higher levels of divergence than non-reproductive proteins and are often evolving adaptively. Seminal fluid proteins have been implicated in the formation of reproductive barriers between diverging lineages, and hence represent interesting candidates underlying speciation. RNA-seq was used to generate the first male reproductive transcriptome for the New Zealand tree weta species Hemideina thoracica and H. crassidens. We identified 865 putative reproductive associated proteins across both species, encompassing a diverse range of functional classes. Candidate gene sequencing of nine genes across three Hemideina, and two Deinacrida species suggests that H. thoracica has the highest levels of intraspecific genetic diversity. Non-monophyly was observed in the majority of sequenced genes indicating that either gene flow may be occurring between the species, or that reciprocal monophyly at these loci has yet to be attained. Evidence for positive selection was found for one lectin-related reproductive protein, with an overall omega of 7.65 and one site in particular being under strong positive selection. This candidate gene represents the first step in the identification of proteins underlying the evolutionary basis of weta reproduction and speciation.
... The high frequency of occurrence of wētā was also a feature of the diet of stoats on Secretary and Resolution Islands. Although it may be simplistic to consider wētā as 'the invertebrate mouse' in New Zealand ecosystems (Griffin et al. 2011), the term may have some merit with regard to stoat diet, as Orthoptera are a good source of proteins and other nutrients (Banjo et al. 2006). Not only were wētā eaten by most of the stoats but they were consumed in large numbers. ...
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The eradication operations to remove stoats (Mustela erminea) from islands in Fiordland provided an opportunity to assess the diet of stoats in areas with no rodents or with only mice (Mus musculus) available as mammalian prey. The carcasses of stoats trapped on Chalky Island in 1999, Secretary Island and the adjacent mainland in 2005, and Resolution Island in 2008 were collected and their gut contents analysed. On rodent-free Chalky Island, most of the stoats had consumed birds, mostly passerines. Stoats on Secretary Island (rodent free) and Resolution Island (mice present) preyed mostly on invertebrates, particularly wētā (Orthoptera). On Resolution Island, mice were probably at relatively low densities, and were consumed by only 12% of the stoats. While average consumption of birds and invertebrates was lower for stoats at the mainland site, the only significant differences amongst the sites were the high bird consumption and low invertebrate consumption on Chalky Island compared with the other sites. The diet of male stoats was similar to that of female stoats on both Secretary Island and Resolution Island. Chalky Island male stoats were heavier than those on the other islands, while the females on the various islands had similar body weights. The variability in diet of stoats from these islands may in part reflect the temporal and spatial differences between the samples. However, it demonstrates the adaptability of stoats, and their ability to survive without mammalian prey in different ways. It supports the hypothesis that differences in body weights of stoats are at least partly driven by variation in prey size and/or availability.
... Tree wētā (Insecta: Orthoptera: Anostostomatidae: Hemideina) are endemic to New Zealand and are an important component of native New Zealand forest ecosystems ( Griffin et al. 2011). Chromosomally, Hemideina has attracted interest because two of the seven species are known to comprise more than one chromosome race (Morgan Richards 1997Richards , 2000). ...
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In North Island New Zealand three species of tree wētā (Hemideina) have narrow regions of overlap. Using detailed measurements of chromosomes we compared the karyotypes of Hemideina thoracica with those of Hemideina crassidens and Hemideina trewicki. Although H. thoracica and H. trewicki have the same diploid number (2n = 17 [XO], 18 [XX]), distinct from H. crassidens (2n = 15 [XO] 16 [XX]); the karyotypes of H. trewicki and H. crassidens are more similar to each other than either is to H. thoracica. Elements within each karyotype were identified that are species specific and will aid identification of putative hybrids. Quantitative cytogenetics was used to identify the sex chromosome for H. crassidens and H. trewicki, which in contrast to previous inferences, is most likely the fifth-longest metacentric chromosome in H. crassidens, and the third-longest metacentric chromosome in H. trewicki.
... Due to New Zealand's ancient geographic isolation (Neall and Trewick 2008), it has developed native fauna that is unlike that of any other country, with approximately 80 % of native species being endemic (Gibbs 2006). Prior to human settlement, there was very little mammalian life, which allowed the resident avian and insect populations to expand into niches they do not traditionally occupy (Griffin et al. 2011b). Among these are the endemic weta, of the insect order Orthoptera. ...
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The endemic New Zealand weta is an enigmatic insect. Although the insect is well known by its distinctive name, considerable size, and morphology, many basic aspects of weta biology remain unknown. Here, we employed cultivation-independent enumeration techniques and rRNA gene sequencing to investigate the gut microbiota of the Auckland tree weta (Hemideina thoracica). Fluorescence in situ hybridisation performed on different sections of the gut revealed a bacterial community of fluctuating density, while rRNA gene-targeted amplicon pyrosequencing revealed the presence of a microbial community containing high bacterial diversity, but an apparent absence of archaea. Bacteria were further studied using full-length 16S rRNA gene sequences, with statistical testing of bacterial community membership against publicly available termite- and cockroach-derived sequences, revealing that the weta gut microbiota is similar to that of cockroaches. These data represent the first analysis of the weta microbiota and provide initial insights into the potential function of these microorganisms.
... Although endozoochory is rare among insects (de Vega et al. 2011), several species of weta are known to consume fleshy fruits and disperse seeds therein (Burns 2006a;Duthie et al. 2006;King et al. 2011). However, very little is yet known about how weta function as seed dispersers and no previous study has investigated how giant weta (Deinacrida spp.) might function as seed dispersers (see Griffin et al. 2011). ...
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Weta are giant, flightless orthopterans that are endemic to New Zealand. Although they are known to consume fleshy fruits and disperse seeds after gut passage, which is unusual among insects, their effectiveness as seed dispersal mutualists is debated. We conducted a series of laboratory experiments on alpine scree weta (Deinacrida connectens) and mountain snowberries (Gaultheria depressa) to investigate how fruit consumption rates, the proportion of ingested seeds dispersed intact and weta movement patterns vary with weta body sizes. On average weta dispersed 252 snowberry seeds nightly and travelled at a rate of 4 m min−1. However, seed dispersal effectiveness varied over three orders of magnitude and was strongly associated with body sizes. Smaller weta consumed few snowberry seeds and acted primarily as seed predators. On the other hand, the largest weta consumed and dispersed thousands of seeds each night and appear to be capable of transporting seeds over large distances. Overall results indicate that scree weta shift from being weakly interacting seed predators to strongly interacting, effective seed dispersers as they increase in size.
... Stoats in New Zealand beech forests most commonly prey upon ground wētā (large flightless Orthopterans) when mice are scarce (Smith et al. 2005). While wētā are sometimes regarded as 'invertebrate mice', they are not energetically or ecologically equivalent to mice because they are ectothermic, with a metabolism almost 20 times slower than that of mice, and an intrinsic rate of increase some 275 times lower (Griffin et al. 2011). Because of this, the presence of mice is likely to increase the size of stoats. ...
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Introduced stoats (Mustela erminea) are important invasive predators in southern beech (Nothofagus sp.) forests in New Zealand. In these forests, one of their primary prey species – introduced house mice (Mus musculus), fluctuate dramatically between years, driven by the irregular heavy seed-fall (masting) of the beech trees. We examined the effects of mice on stoats in this system by comparing the weights, age structure and population densities of stoats caught on two large islands in Fiordland, New Zealand – one that has mice (Resolution Island) and one that does not (Secretary Island). On Resolution Island, the stoat population showed a history of recruitment spikes and troughs linked to beech masting, whereas the Secretary Island population had more constant recruitment, indicating that rodents are probably the primary cause for the ‘boom and bust’ population cycle of stoats in beech forests. Resolutions Island stoats were 10% heavier on average than Secretary Island stoats, supporting the hypothesis that the availability of larger prey (mice verses wētā) leads to larger stoats. Beech masting years on this island were also correlated with a higher weight for stoats born in the year of the masting event. The detailed demographic information on the stoat populations of these two islands supports previously suggested interactions among mice, stoats and beech masting. These interactions may have important consequences for the endemic species that interact with fluctuating populations of mice and stoats.
Vibrational signalling is an important communication mode in different taxa of Ensifera (long-horned grasshoppers), even though crickets and tettigoniids are mostly thought of as well-established models for the study of acoustic communication in calling and courtship. In the New Zealand weta (Anostostomatidae), pair formation is not mediated by long-range acoustic communication. This chapter summarises the recent research that has identified the different means of substrate-borne vibrational signals used by weta. Notably, diverse behavioural contexts and signalling modes rely on vibrational signals: giant weta (Deinacridinae) mediate male–male agonistic interactions by dorso-ventral tremulation, ground weta (genus Hemiandrus) use abdominal drumming on plant substrates in pair formation, and tree weta (genus Hemideina) produce vibrational signals by tremulation in aggressive behaviour and by stridulation in defence. Such stridulation produces both airborne sound and substrate vibrations, and as in all other Ensifera studied thus far, the substrate vibrations are detected by mechanosensory organs located in the legs. The sensory elements involved in vibration detection are conserved among weta species with and without tympanal hearing organs, but show specific functional adaptations relating to the different modalities. While the importance and diversity of substrate vibration signals have been established for weta, further characterisation of these signals and sampling of related species will offer insights into the evolutionary divergence of vibrational signalling across the weta groups, and will support studies of the evolution of vibration detection and tympanal hearing in the broader Ensifera.
In this and the following chapter I shall try to review what we now know about the distribution, abundance and turnover of small mammal populations and to indicate their importance in animal communities by virtue of their great numbers and their dominant position in food chains.
This book had its origin when, about five years ago, an ecologist (MacArthur) and a taxonomist and zoogeographer (Wilson) began a dialogue about common interests in biogeography. The ideas and the language of the two specialties seemed initially so different as to cast doubt on the usefulness of the endeavor. But we had faith in the ultimate unity of population biology, and this book is the result. Now we both call ourselves biogeographers and are unable to see any real distinction between biogeography and ecology.
Pre-human New Zealand had some unusual feeding guilds of birds (e.g. the herbivorous moa fauna), thought to have developed as a result of the absence of a 'normal' mammal fauna. Insectivorous birds, on the other hand, are an integral part of all the world's ecosystems, regardless of the presence or absence of mammals. While it is acknowledged the overall predation impact from birds in New Zealand is unlikely to have differed greatly from elsewhere, the low impact of mammalian insectivores (apart from microbats), coupled with the presence of a specialised avian feeding guild that concentrated on ground-active prey, might have exerted certain unique selection pressures. Do New Zealand invertebrates reflect this? It would be necessary to compare the New Zealand invertebrate fauna with that of mammal-dominated lands in greater detail than is available today before we could assert whether any unique anti-predator characteristics have evolved. Knowledge of the insects that succumbed to extinction when mammals invaded New Zealand should provide clues to avian-adapted features that might have rendered them particularly vulnerable to introduced rodents. Predation by kiwi (Apteryx spp.), an extraordinarily mammal-like nocturnal bird, may to some extent have prepared the invertebrate fauna for the arrival of small mammals.
The effects of radiotransmitters and fluorescent powders on the exercise-wheel-running activity of wild house mice (Mus musculus) were measured. Numbers of wheel revolutions run by 160 house mice at 6, 24, and 96 h, were recorded after they were exposed to one of five treatments (control, collar-control, powder-control, radiocollar, and powder). Control groups exhibited equal activity at the three time intervals. Radiocollared mice and those covered with fluorescent powders exhibited reduced activity at 6 h; radiocollared mice exhibited a reduction in activity that persisted at least 96 h.