Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

National ecosystem services trends

What is the problem?

New Zealand has a multitude of policies governing the use of natural resources. They operate at different scales, are administered by multiple agents, and focus on single issues. This fragmented approach can be replaced by a more holistic one, where management considers the ecosystem services upon which our economy and our wellbeing depends. Ecosystem services include provisioning services, such as food and fibre; regulating services, such as water regulation and pollination; cultural services, such as recreation and tourism, as well as supporting services, such as soil formation and nutrient cycling.

Since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005, researchers and policymakers alike have been trying to determine how ecosystem services should be managed. At Landcare Research, we are undertaking research to characterise the condition and trend of ecosystem services in New Zealand, and to look at how these services should be incorporated into decision-making. It is important that we build a New Zealand centric evidence base that considers the full range of ecosystem services, to enable the best decisions to be made about land use, development and management.

How did we approach resolving the problem?

We took a three-phase approach by (1) producing a nationwide assessment of ecosystem services, (2) determining how ecosystem services are linked to land use and management and (3) offering a framework to adapt natural resource planning and policy to ensure national consistency and sustainability across a broad range of outcomes. We have transformed a research concept into a policy instrument to enable the integration of ecosystem services, and the consideration of multiple ecosystem services simultaneously, into planning, policy decisions and reporting protocols.

The nationwide assessment has highlighted several trends for future research or policy focus:

  1. Ten percent of high class land in New Zealand is occupied by lifestyle blocks; 0.5% of high class land has been urbanised in the last 20 years (see Andrew & Dymond in press).
  2. Nitrate inputs to fresh water are increasing in Canterbury, West Coast, and Southland. They are decreasing in Manawatu-Wanganui, Northland, Bay of Plenty, and Auckland. Elsewhere they are remaining the same.
  3. Climate regulation services provided by natural ecosystems are of a similar order of magnitude to fossil fuel emissions (Dymond 2010).
  4. Over the last 20 years 51 000 ha of indigenous forest have been cleared and 71 000 ha of tussock grasslands have been converted to exotic pasture.

Who has adopted our innovation?

Regional councils are now adopting ecosystem services considerations into regional policy statements and regional plans.

What impact has this innovation had on adopters?

The greatest impact is still to come. In the first three years of the four-year programme we have focused on the first two objectives: identifying conditions and trends, and future scenarios. In the final year we will develop the policy framework that will help agencies achieve more effective management of ecosystem services.


Andrew R, Dymond JR In press. Expansion of lifestyle blocks and urban areas onto high-class land. Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Ausseil A-G, Dymond JR, Weeks ES 2011. Provision of natural habitat for biodiversity: quantifying recent trends in New Zealand. In: Grillo P ed. Biodiversity loss in a changing planet. Rejika, InTech. Available from:

Dymond JR 2010. Soil erosion in New Zealand is a net sink of CO2. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 35: 1763–1772.

Dymond JR, Betts HD, Schierlitz CS 2010. An erosion model for evaluating land-use scenarios in New Zealand. Environmental Modelling and Software 25: 289–298.

Dymond JR, Ausseil A-G, Ekanayake J, Kirschbaum MUF 2011. Tradeoffs between soil, water, and carbon – a national scale analysis from New Zealand. Journal of Environmental Management 95: 124–131.

Dymond JR, Shepherd JD, Newsome PF, Gapare N, Burgess D 2012. Remote sensing of land-use change for Kyoto Protocol reporting– the New Zealand case. Environmental Science and Policy 16: 1–8.

Mason WH, Dymond JR, Ausseil A-G, Overton JMcC, Price R, Carswell FE In press. Will use of non-biodiversity objectives to select areas for ecological restoration always compromise biodiversity gains? Biological Conservation.

Parfitt RL, Stevenson BA, Dymond JR, Schipper LA, Baisden WT, Ballantine DJ In press. Nitrogen inputs and outputs for New Zealand from 1990 to 2010 at national and regional scales. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research.

Weeks ES, Walker S, Dymond JR, Shepherd JD, Clarkson BD 2013. Patterns of past and recent conversion of indigenous grasslands in the South Island of New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 37(1): in press.