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  • Biodiversity is the number and variety of organisms found within a specified geographic region.

    New Zealand’s native biodiversity is unique because of our long isolation as small islands in a vast ocean. The high percentage of species found nowhere else in the world makes New Zealand’s native biodiversity both special and highly vulnerable.

    Rights: Lara Bieleski

    Fern frond

    A native fern frond. The high percentage of species found nowhere else in the world makes New Zealand’s native biodiversity both special and highly vulnerable.

    New Zealand was one of the last places on earth to be settled by humans, but it has one of the worst records of native biodiversity loss. Fire, land clearance, over-exploitation of resources and introduced plants and animals have had cumulative and damaging impacts on native biodiversity. As a result, dozens of species have become extinct, and an increasing number are threatened with extinction.

    Nature of science

    We can start to understand socio-scientific issues, such as deforestation, overfishing and resource exploitation, by gathering relevant scientific information in order to draw evidence-based conclusions. This will allow us to take informed action where appropriate.

    Direct species loss

    Hunting led to the extinction of a quarter of our land-based birds, including the moa. When the first humans arrived in New Zealand, they found a rich bounty of plants and animals. Over time, over-consumption of many important food sources led Māori communities to develop customs and practices to prevent the depletion of a valuable resource. An example of this is rāhui – a restriction placed on food collection in an area. Today, the harvest of native species is strictly controlled and monitored.

    Habitat loss

    Loss of habitat has been extensive since the arrival of humans. Trees have been felled for timber, forests burned to create farmland and wetlands drained to create pasture. A great importance has been placed on preventing any further habitat loss, and much is being done to restore forest, wetland, stream margin and coastal habitats.

    Rights: Lara Bieleski

    Coastal biodiversity

    An example of the biodiversity on the West Coast. New Zealand’s native biodiversity is unique, born of long isolation as small islands in a vast ocean.

    Pests and weeds

    Unwanted animals and plants have been brought to New Zealand by both settlers and visitors – sometimes intentionally (for example, rabbits) and sometimes accidentally (for example, didymo). Biosecurity measures are in place to try and prevent the arrival of any unwelcome pests.

    Activity ideas

    Students are introduced to biodiversity – they make models of a marine ecosystem and use their models to explore human impact on ecosystems and biodiversity.

    In Biodiversity battleships, students develop knowledge of flora and fauna in a variety of New Zealand habitats and gain awareness of the extent of loss of the New Zealand habitat.

    In Threats to biodiversity, students research three aspects of biodiversity loss – direct species loss, habitat loss and pests and weeds.

    Related content

    New Zealand's Biological Heritage – Ngā Koiora Tuku Iho is the National Science Challenge responsible for protecting and enhancing biodiversity and biosecurity of Aotearoa.

    Climate change and impacts on biodiversity explores additional problems climate change creates for living things and how it has the potential to worsen existing threats.

    Useful links

    Read more about biodiversity on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

    Visit the Department of Conservation website's section on biodiversity.

    Read about the findings from a study that collated the results of a number of individual studies relating to possum control and the links to biodiversity outcomes on the Predator Free website.

    Visit The Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) – the go-to place for anyone who wants to know what’s living where: plants, animals, fungi, and whatever slime moulds are. It's the world’s biggest database of living things.

      Published 9 September 2008, Updated 21 November 2014 Referencing Hub articles
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