Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

A biodiversity assessment system for New Zealand

What is the problem?

Although biodiversity is thought to be declining on public conservation land, the evidence is patchy, unrepresentative and coming under increasing scrutiny. Furthermore, there is little information on biodiversity in productive landscapes, and as land use intensifies, along with increasing international scrutiny of the biodiversity footprint of production, there needs to be an objective biodiversity assessment of productive landscapes. Collecting consistent, representative biodiversity data from public and private land is essential to address these problems and provide a comprehensive national overview of the state of New Zealand’s biodiversity.

How did we approach resolving the problem?

We developed a novel biodiversity assessment system where ‘ecological integrity’ can be measured consistently and without bias at national and regional scales, on both private and public lands across conservation and productive landscapes.

Stakeholders had told us that any framework for biodiversity assessment needed also to achieve the goals of biodiversity protection and restoration. That was provided through the concept of ‘ecological integrity’, which embodies three components: indigenous dominance, species occupancy and ecosystem representation.1 With stakeholders, we selected vegetation structure and composition, bird communities, and introduced mammal abundance and distribution as indicators to develop for these components.2 We used past investments in field measurement and existing managed data (e.g. National Vegetation Survey databank3), in collaboration with the Department of Conservation (DOC), to design and implement new, unbiased field measurements on public lands.4

Who has adopted our innovation?

The biodiversity assessment system we designed is a critical component of DOC’s annual reporting on its management of natural heritage. This year, DOC collected data for all of these measures in indigenous forests at 80 sampling points located on an 8-km grid. We worked with DOC to interpret the data in terms of ecological integrity, including assessing the effects of DOC’s management for its annual report. We are working with the Regional Councils Biodiversity Forum which has now adopted the same biodiversity assessment framework.5 With the National Institute for Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) we are developing additional indicators that include new occurrences of weeds, changes in land cover types and areas being restored by the public. Interest in the biodiversity assessment framework is growing from private sector groups, e.g. Future Forests Research, for reporting environmental performance and meeting product certification requirements.

What impact has this innovation had on adopters?

DOC has re-evaluated some management priorities on the basis of evidence from this year’s data, while regional councils have developed standard reporting templates for six national biodiversity indicators.


1Lee W, McGlone M, Wright E 2005. Biodiversity Inventory and Monitoring: a review of national and international systems and a proposed framework for future biodiversity monitoring by the Department of Conservation. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0405/122 for the Department of Conservation, Wellington.
2Allen RB, Wright EF, MacLeod CJ, Bellingham PJ, Forsyth DM, Mason NWH, Gormley AM, Marburg AE, MacKenzie DI, McKay M 2009. Designing an Inventory and Monitoring Programme for the Department of Conservation’s Natural Heritage Management System. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0809/153 for the Department of Conservation, Wellington.
3Wiser SK, Bellingham PJ, Burrows LE 2001. Managing biodiversity information: development of New Zealand’s National Vegetation Survey databank. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 25 (2): 1–17.
4Allen RB, Bellingham PJ, Forsyth DM, MacLeod CJ, Wright EF 2009. Implementing an Inventory and Monitoring Programme for the Department of Conservation’s Natural Heritage Management System. Landcare Research Contract Report LC0809/154 for Department of Conservation, Wellington.
5Lee WG, Allen RB 2009. Recommended monitoring framework for regional councils assessing biodiversity outcomes in terrestrial ecosystems. Landcare Research Contract Report LC144 for the Regional Council Biodiversity Forum, New Plymouth.