Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Issue 1, July 2013

In this issue:

Weed & Pest Management

topPredator-free NZ update

StoatOver the past 12 months the idea of a “Predator Free New Zealand” (PFNZ) has gained momentum and Landcare Research is already contributing significantly to this vision.

We are the lead CRI for New Zealand’s research into terrestrial biodiversity, and a major player in post-border biosecurity research – research that aims to reduce or eliminate key threats to our native biota, such as predation by introduced mammals. Landcare Research is working with a wide range of groups undertaking pest and biodiversity research, all aimed at underpinning PFNZ. The vision requires a very broad research front, including large-scale aerial control of pests, quantification of biodiversity condition, social science, and real-time information on predator abundance.

However, it’s more complex than you think! Predator-free NZ is not as simple as just ‘killing predators’. Predators such as feral cats and ferrets are mobile, and can (and do) move large distances across the landscape. Smaller predators such as stoats, rats and mice (sometimes termed ‘mesopredators’) can breed rapidly. Large movements and fast breeding both contribute to the problem of reinvasion, and that’s before we begin to consider other factors such as how different habitats might influence predator biology and our ability to target them over very large scales. Indeed landscape-scale habitat complexity will very likely pose unforeseen challenges for PFNZ.

To investigate this problem, Grant Norbury and colleagues recently completed a study of ecological interactions among a suite of invasive mammal species – rabbits, ferrets, stoats, feral cats, hedgehogs, and house mice – and their combined impacts on native lizards and invertebrates. The team conducted their experiments in a mosaic of unmodified shrubland–grassland with few rabbits, as well as in highly modified pasture supporting plenty of rabbits.

In their 4-year experiment, top predators (ferrets, stoats and cats) were suppressed to low abundance at several replicate sites, and the responses of vegetation, ‘mesopredators’ (mice), and the remaining invasive mammals were measured. The team expected that native fauna would benefit from the removal of top predators, but removal of stoats, ferrets and cats resulted in unforeseen outcomes. First, ‘mesopredator release’ of mice was evident at some sites, which had a flow-on effect to lizard populations because more mice were present to eat lizards. Also, when fewer rabbits were present, the increased flush of vegetation – particularly seed from introduced pasture grasses – also boosted the mouse population, again resulting in negative impacts on native fauna.

The situation was further exacerbated by the ability of cats, ferrets and stoats to move easily between areas of high rabbit abundance (modified pasture) and low rabbit abundance (natural grassland–shrubland), compounding predation impacts on native fauna in those areas. This ‘landscape supplementation’ effect on predators is a key process to consider when managing invaded communities in complex landscapes: a lesson for managing invasive mammals at the scale of PFNZ.

Achieving a predator-free New Zealand is a long-term aspirational goal. The journey has just begun and will require the cooperation of numerous agencies, corporates, community groups and the general public – over decades. It will also require robust, evidence-based decision-making, underpinned by good scientific principles, at every step along the journey. The Predator Free New Zealand Trust has recently been established to promote this vision. Landcare Research Chief Executive Dr Richard Gordon has been invited to be a founding Trustee.

Contact: Andrea Byrom

Website: Predator-free New Zealand (PFNZ)

Further reading:
Norbury GL, Byrom AE, Pech RP, Smith J, Clarke D, Anderson D, Forrester G. In press. Invasive predators and habitat modification interact to generate unforeseen outcomes for indigenous fauna. Ecological Applications.

Presentation on PFNZ by Andrea Byrom and Susan Timmins (DOC).

Landcare Research has devoted two special issues of Kararehe Kino, our vertebrate pest research newsletter, to Predator-Free New Zealand:

topGalápagos Islands research highlighted

Galapagos ArchipelagoThe work of researcher Penny Fisher (and former staff member John Parkes) in the Galápagos Archipelago has been highlighted in a news feature in Nature.

Penny and John made a significant contribution to an international project endeavouring to eradicate invasive rodents from the island of Pinzón, in the Galápagos Archipelago. In 2011, Penny conducted feeding trials at the Charles Darwin Research Station, on Santa Cruz Island, to assess the toxicity of brodifacoum rat poison to the Galápagos’ world-famous tortoises and other reptiles. She also conducted a risk assessment of rodenticide application for all of the native reptiles, mammals and birds that inhabit Pinzón and the neighbouring Plaza Sur Island.

Five years ago, most of the major islands and smaller rocky outcrops in the Galápagos experienced a plague of invasive mice and rats. The rodents feed on the eggs and young of seabirds, land birds and reptiles, and have brought several species – including the rare Pinzón giant tortoise (Chelonoidis duncanensis) – to the brink of extinction. In 2007, the Galápagos National Park Service and the Charles Darwin Foundation developed an initiative code-named Project Pinzón, a military-style plan-of-action to kill invasive rodents on three islands, – starting with North Seymour (1.8 square kilometres), then moving on to Rábida (5 square kilometres) and, finally, Pinzón (18 square kilometres) – plus about a dozen smaller outcrops and islets. This US$3 million project was one of the most high-profile and challenging rat eradications ever attempted. One of the biggest uncertainties was what impact would brodifacoum have on non-target species.

The results showed that although the tortoises and reptiles were not at serious risk from poisoning, as a precaution a small population of tortoises would be held in captivity; also risk mitigation plans for lava gulls, hawks and iguanas needed to be implemented. Insufficient data on land snails, snakes and geckos meant that risk could not be estimated for these species.

The results were used in the bait project to limit the risk to non-target species. The poisoning took place on Pinzón in November–December 2012 and appears to have been successful. The full story was reported as a News Feature in the May edition of Nature 497 (7449), 306–308

Contact: Penny Fisher

topNew DNA technology could help battle wasps

<em>Vespula vulgaris</em>New DNA technology could one day form the basis of an effective new tool to fight one of New Zealand’s most aggressive insect pests.

German wasps (Vespula germanica) and common wasps (Vespula vulgaris) are now widespread throughout New Zealand and in some habitats they are among the most common insects encountered. As a result, wasps have detrimental impacts on native ecosystems, economic impacts on beekeeping, give rise to human health issues, and cause disruption to recreational activities.

But Landcare Research and Plant & Food Research scientists are advocating research into “RNA interference” (or RNAi), which is a fundamentally different approach to wasp control that offers consistent and long-term benefits.

Researcher Darren Ward says RNAi is a natural biological process that prevents gene expression, and causes the destruction of specific molecules. By the exact targeting of specific genes, RNAi can be used to “turn off” genes involved with wasp biology.

RNAi has a number of benefits because:

  • it does not involve the use of pesticides;
  • is extremely species-specific, thus avoiding non-target effects; and
  • many pests are evolving resistance to chemicals, and new control approaches are needed.

Such technology could be applied to German and common wasps but the concept needs to be proved. Key research steps are needed that involve sequencing the wasp genome, finding specific genes to target wasps, undertaking trials to prove RNAi can affect wasp growth and/or survival, and also trials to show such technology does not affect other species.

Darren suggests the technology could be applied to wasps at liquid bait stations, and easily carried out by members of the public, beekeepers, in public recreation areas, orchards etc. This is a fundamental paradigm shift in wasp control because it does not involve the use of pesticides and avoids non-target effects (including on honey bees).

A proposal to develop RNAi technology for the control of German and common wasps has been submitted to the 2013 Biological Industries Round (Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment Science Investment Round). The proposal is a collaborative effort between Landcare Research and Plant & Food Research, and aims to have the key research steps completed in two years.

The investigation of RNAi as a control tool for managing German wasps and common wasps was also included in a report by Landcare Research for an Envirolink project initiated by Tasman District Council and supported by the Regional Council Biosecurity Working Group. The report’s objectives were to summarise wasp impacts, review current control methods, and recommend and prioritise the most promising options for control.

Several recommendations were made regarding the control of wasps, and the top five are listed below. The recommendations cover a range of control methods, as the control of wasps may require multiple methods.

  1. Support research into “RNA interference” technology. It is a fundamentally different approach to wasp control and offers several advantages including non-toxicity and extremely high specificity (and thus has no non-target effects).
  2. Undertake a feasibility study for the biological control of wasps to determine the range of possible agents, their likely effects on wasps, and the best origins from which these agents should be sought.
  3. Conduct experiments and/or modelling to determine whether trapping effectively reduces wasp numbers.
  4. Conduct further field trials with pathogenic fungi to determine their effectiveness as a non-toxic alternative to the baiting method using insecticides.
  5. Identify those pheromones that are fundamental to disrupting nest activities. This should include the mechanisms for delivery of pheromones to wasp nests.

Contact: Darren Ward

Website: Ants, wasps and bees (Hymenoptera)

topInvestigating wasp biocontrol

Could biocontrol assist our efforts to control wasps? Image - John SullivanMeanwhile, a wasp biocontrol action group has now been formed in the Nelson region as a result of our researchers seeking public involvement as they investigate the feasibility of undertaking a new biocontrol programme aimed at attacking European wasps.

We intend to apply for a Sustainable Farming Fund grant to study the safety and biocontrol potential of promising-looking mites that were recently discovered and that appear to attack wasps.

During a recent study on the chemical ecology of European wasps a researcher serendipitously discovered mites on the wasps. The mites appeared to attach to wasps with their mouthparts and were located in areas difficult for the wasps to groom. In addition, wing deformation was apparent in infected wasps, and heavily infected wasp colonies collapsed.

“These finding encouraged us to reinvestigate a biocontrol programme for wasps in New Zealand, and pursue this potentially promising mite-agent,” says Landcare Research scientist Ronny Groenteman.

“But, projects like this require public involvement and therefore we’re inviting members of the public, industry groups and other stakeholders to listen to our presentation and to be a part of our application.”

Ronny says researchers have several key questions they want to investigate:

  • What are these mites? We know they are not Varroa but are they native or introduced?
  • Do they actually feed on the wasps (or do they just hitch a ride)?
  • How prevalent are they (have they simply been overlooked until now)?
  • Are they the cause of wasp wing deformation?
  • Could they jump onto honey bees, bumble bees, native ants or native solitary bees?
  • Can they build up to densities that could lead to colony collapse in feral nests?

“Biocontrol agents aren’t a ‘quick fix’ but instead work quietly over a number of years in conjunction with other existing control methods. While wasp biocontrol agents introduced to New Zealand 30 years ago failed to establish, this mite could be playing a different game, and it is already here and established. We are convinced that investigating its potential is the prudent thing to do,” Ronny says.

Presentations will be held in several parts of the country over the following months.

Contact: Ronny Groenteman

Social Wasps in New Zealand

topComing to a smartphone near you …

Educational online “Ora”A soon-to-be released downloadable smartphone ‘app’ is set to be a precursor of new tools to challenge how New Zealanders think about pest control.

“Possum Stomp” is a fun game where a kiwi tries to protect its nest from zombie possums, and is a teaser for a wider educational online game called “Ora” that will be introduced in 2014. This game will allow players to undertake pest control operations by selecting and utilising a range of different methods and to measure the outcomes of their choices.

However, for every decision taken by the player there will consequences, says researcher Bruce Warburton.

“One of the main aims is to teach people about the complexities of managing pests in New Zealand. If people don’t want to use a particular tool, say 1080, they don’t have to but there may well be consequences related to budget, biological, or regulatory constraints.”

Landcare Research models developed by researcher Pen Holland run beneath the game and show participants what would happen to the forest canopy as a result of the pest strategies they choose.

“Some people may choose to kill nothing and Pen’s model will show how the forest canopy will decline from possums eating it,” says Bruce.

“Therefore, that will be the consequence of that player’s decision.”

In comparison, Possum Stomp will be a fun game to get people interested in Ora.

“The player acts as the kiwi that has to run around and stomp on the zombie possums before they steal the eggs. The zombie possums are effectively representing all invasive pests and the kiwi represents New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity,” Pen says.

The gaming environment marks a significant change in how science can be translated from research to the public and both researchers are hoping the gaming medium proves to be effective.

“It’s educational but we’re also going to observe peoples’ strategies for pest management and use that to crowd-source some solutions,” Pen says.

Development of the Ora and Possum Stomp games are also an element of a wider research programme led by Bruce aimed at developing new technologies for pest control.

“We need to ask ourselves why do all this research on new technologies if the public don’t know about them or more importantly don’t accept them? So, it’s about engaging communities in discussions and decisions about different pest control options, but we want people involved in discussions to be informed and one way of informing them is by playing games.

“Currently we present our science in boring scientific papers and contract reports which few people know about or read, and the challenge is how we can better transfer that knowledge. The gaming method is one option that can reach a lot of people and make it personal.”

The game has been developed in collaboration with Hazel Bradshaw, a PhD student at the Human Interface Technology Lab (University of Canterbury), who is studying how the gaming environment can be used for knowledge transfer.

The stars:

Stompy the kiwi
Zombie possum
Stompy the kiwi
Zombie possum

Contact: Bruce Warburton


topGarden Bird Survey 2013 progress report

GoldfinchLandcare Research in partnership with Forest & Bird and the Ornithological Society continue to take a lead role in the nationwide annual Garden Bird Survey, which for seven years has provided a snapshot of the birdlife living in New Zealand gardens.

Organiser Eric Spurr says the survey continues to grow each year and has several aims.

“Obviously, we want to encourage people to become interested in birds and the environment but we also want to look at trends in bird numbers over time which will assist in long term management of certain species. We need to know if native birds such as kereru, tui, bellbirds, fantails, and grey warblers are increasing or declining over the years in our gardens and in our towns.”

Progress results from the 2013 survey show house sparrow is by far the most common species this year, with 44,969 counted so far (average 13.4 per garden). This compares with 12.3 per garden at the same stage last year. Silvereye is second (29,184 or 8.7 per garden), down slightly on the 9.6 per garden last year.

Eric is unsure yet why silvereye numbers are down.

“Autumn and early winter temperatures were above average over most of the country, despite the snowfalls in late June, and so perhaps there was still plenty of natural food around.”

There have been 3368 survey returns entered online so far, but Eric expects this to rise to over 4000.

The survey took place between 29 June and 7 July and volunteers were asked to look for birds in their gardens for one hour, and for each species they detected record the maximum number seen or heard at any one time over that hour.

Eric said results are much the same as in previous years, with similar species occurring in the top 10 every year.

“House sparrow has been the most common species every year. The most common native species have been silvereye (2nd), tui (5th), and fantail (8th).”

The survey provides valuable information about trends in garden bird populations, potentially helping guide conservation efforts, such as the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Department of Conservation’s possum, rat, and stoat control programmes. These pest control operations have resulted in increased numbers of native birds in city bush reserves, but Eric says it is too soon yet to tell whether there has been an increase in the numbers of native birds in domestic gardens.

The garden bird survey website has a graph of results that is updated as new results come in. There is also a map showing where different species have been reported from. The map and graph were developed by Andy Ball from Fairfax Media, and Eric encourages people to look at them on the Garden Bird Survey website.

Contact: Eric Spurr

Website: Garden bird survey

topThe value of our collections …

The detection of bacterial disease on kiwifruit vines in the Bay of Plenty in November 2010 prompted a large-scale biosecurity response, but little is known about the role of Landcare Research in the initial disease identification using our International Collection of Micro-organisms from Plants (ICMP) collection.

Use of this resource to identify the disease has allowed authorities and growers to act, manage and plan for the future.

The early symptoms of the disease are leaf spotting; this can progress to cane and leader dieback and, in extreme cases, vine death accompanied by the production of bleeding exudates. Pseudomonas syringae pv. actinidiae (Psa) was subsequently identified as a bacterium that can result in the death of kiwifruit vines.

ICMP is one of our five internationally renowned collections and a major international collection of plant bacteria, as well as a repository for microorganisms of plant and environmental origin. Individually and collectively, these collections are a formidable piece of armour in New Zealand’s ongoing battle to protect biosecurity and conservation.

The first question that investigators faced with the discovery of Psa was to understand if it was a new incursion to New Zealand, or if the bacterium had been here for some time but only recently had become a problem due to a change in environmental conditions. Many plant pathogenic bacteria are able to live happily in the environment, such as in soils and on leaf surfaces, without causing disease. A change in conditions such as wounding or extreme weather events can make the plants weaker and more susceptible to disease.

Researcher Bevan Weir says the ICMP stores over 9000 bacterial strains, many from important New Zealand plants.

“The very first sample from kiwifruit, from 1972, was isolated by a young technician, Paula Wilkie, and she’s still with us today and it was fantastic having that experience during the Psa incursion.”

These many strains meant Landcare Research could respond quickly by looking for all records of similar kiwifruit bacteria that had been deposited in the collection.

“Of course, the hope was that the bacterium has been here for a while and it’s just some environmental conditions that gave rise to the pathogen and that it would disappear again,” says Bevan.

“However, screening found nothing that matched Psa, which suggested it was a new incursion.”

The ICMP also allowed researchers to help develop an improved diagnostic test for the disease. ICMP cultures were used as both positive and negative controls to ensure that the test only picked up Psa bacteria and not any of the other very similar plant pathogenic bacteria present in New Zealand.

Bevan says that without the ICMP, diagnosis would have been significantly slower and this would have, in turn, slowed the response.

“We would not have had anything from kiwifruit to compare with and if MAF (now MPI) had to go overseas for samples it could’ve taken weeks.”

The ICMP contains over 18 000 strains of fungi and bacteria. Most strains are stored using liquid nitrogen or in vacuum-dried ampoules. The ICMP laboratory is a MAF (MPI) approved PC2 Containment Facility and a Transitional Facility for Microorganisms.

“You just never know what, among those thousands of cultures, could be useful in the future,” Bevan says.

Contact: Bevan Weir

Website: International Collection of Microorganisms from Plants (ICMP)

topNew technology assists in plant identification

Botanists, conservation staff, biosecurity managers and the general public have a new diagnostic tool to assist them in the identification of New Zealand plant families and genera thanks to an online key developed by scientists at Landcare Research.

In fact, the key is the first of its type in the world that goes beyond family level for a whole country’s flowering plant flora.

Until now a major obstacle to experienced and inexperienced botanists alike was how to identify a family or genus for a flowering plant they didn’t recognise.

Traditionally, two methods were used but neither was particularly easy, says researcher David Glenny.

“The first was to use a key to families in a volume of the New Zealand Flora series. This required very complete plant material, with flowers or fruit or both.

“The second method of identification was to become familiar with the families and genera of flowering plants. This method works well for the native flora where we only have 200 genera, but is significantly more difficult with the 800 non-native genera.

“However, the new online interactive key shortcuts this process and allows users to go directly to a genus for the 1085 flowering genera that are wild or casual in New Zealand,” Dr Glenny says.

“The key does not require users to identify the family first, but the genera are organised in the key into families, so using the key will remind users of the families.

“The key largely runs on simple characters like division of leaves, whether leaves are opposite or alternate, leaf length and width, flower and fruit colour. Having flowers or fruit will certainly help with identification but the key can be used without these. Using leaves alone may take users to a number of genera at which point flicking through the images of the key is likely to result in them deciding on a genus. The key has nearly 9000 images.”

This key has been funded by TFBIS (Terrestrial & Freshwater Biodiversity Information System), a fund administered by the Department of Conservation.

Illustrated interactive keys are seen as a powerful new tool in high demand by users in the biodiversity and biosecurity sectors.

The key can be found at Key to flowering plant genera of New Zealand, or easier, Google “flowering genus key”.

Contact: David Glenny

Website: Key to flowering plant genera of New Zealand

Land & Water

topS-Map upgrade

Researcher James Barringer using S-MapS-Map, New Zealand’s digital mapping service, has undergone a major overhaul, with changes that improve its accuracy and make it easier for land managers to use, whether at farm, local, regional or national scale.

Researcher Linda Lilburne says coverage has been extended to include new areas in the Gisborne, Waikato, Canterbury, Auckland and West Coast regions while some of the Bay of Plenty (Mamaku Plateau) has been updated.

“Various minor corrections have been made, along with a major update to the way that PAW (Profile Available Water) is calculated. This has resulted in significant changes, particularly increases in PAW estimates for soils formed from pumice and volcanic ash. The most significant changes occur in North Island soils around Waikato, the Bay of Plenty and parts of upper Manawatu-Wanganui.

“Furthermore, all the factsheets have been modified and now include hyperlinks to the extended glossary.”

Linda says the upgrade is part of ongoing efforts to ensure S-Map remains accessible and easily used by all users.

Of course the development of S-Map has revolutionised how New Zealanders access information on soil. Previous soil databases were patchy in scale, age and quality while many maps do not adequately describe the underlying properties of the soil types they represent.

S-Map integrates existing reports and digital information and updates soil maps where existing data are of low quality. The goal is to provide comprehensive, quantitative soil information to support sustainable development and scientific modelling.

Contact: Linda Lilburne

Website: S-Map

topStructured decision making for freshwater futures

In line with recent recommendations from the Land and Water Forum (2012) and the Ministry for the Environment (2013), collaborative approaches are being widely promoted in New Zealand as a promising means to resolving conflict over the management of freshwater resources.

In late 2012, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council convened a collaborative stakeholder group, facilitated by researchers from Landcare Research and the Cawthron Institute. The purpose of the group is to recommend allocation limits and water quality targets for the proposed plan change for the Greater Heretaunga and Ahuriri catchment.

The key drivers for the plan change are a requirement for the council to give effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the expiry of a large number of water permits in the two catchments from 2015 onwards. The collaborative process is referred to locally as the TANK process after the four sub-catchments affected by the plan change: the Tutaekuri, Ahuriri, Ngaruroro and the Karamu.

As part of the MBIE-funded ‘Freshwater Values, Monitoring and Outcomes’ programme, Nick Cradock-Henry (Landcare Research) and Natasha Berkett (Cawthron institute) are evaluating several aspects of the TANK process with an eye to incorporating these into future collaborative decision-making processes. Unlike other evaluations of collaborative processes – which have nearly all been based on final results, this one is longitudinal in nature. Design, process and outcome are being evaluated at three points in time: soon after the process began in October 2012, approximately halfway through, and at the end of the formal series of meetings later this year.

The aim of the evaluation is to assess participants’ changes in attitude, social learnings, and overall satisfaction with the process. The evaluation will also help facilitate best practice, identify potential pitfalls in advance, and contribute to the discussion on the application of collaborative processes in natural resource management. The goal is to evaluate not only the outcome of the TANK process, which can include more than just reaching consensus, but also the way the process was conducted.

The evaluation of the process is done using surveys (administered online to participants), through feedback forms, stakeholder interviews and detailed observation. These multiple methods enable researchers to produce snapshots of the process through time, to track any changes in participants’ views and opinions, and to facilitate comparison between this and other collaborative processes.

Based on feedback so far, participants have continued – with each successive meeting – to express greater confidence and higher degrees of satisfaction with the process, including the way it is being organised and facilitated. Respondents were generally supportive of the way the TANK process was being managed and coordinated at the time of the first survey in late November 2012 (76%) and understood the criteria of both accountability and adherence to clear ground rules (70% and 63% respectively).

As part of the evaluation, respondents were also asked to rank design considerations they considered integral to a successful outcome. For TANK participants, the most important criterion is that “participants have equal opportunity to speak about their values”. Ensuring equal representation is a significant challenge for any collaborative process, as the potential range of affected parties is almost limitless. The TANK process has addressed this in part, by ensuring that individuals are aware of their responsibility to communicate with wider industry, community and sector groups, and by ensuring the group is as diverse as possible, while still remaining practical.

While the research has just crossed the halfway mark, it is providing valuable insight into the potential for collaboration, but also the pitfalls, and contributing to design considerations for best collaborative practices. Collaborative processes for freshwater management are fast becoming a popular planning tool with many alleged benefits relative to alternative planning models. There is agreement among advocates and critics alike that careful evaluation of collaborative planning is required to assess the merits of such processes and to develop best-practice guidelines. In the ongoing evaluation of this collaborative process in Hawke’s Bay, findings show there is wide support for the collaborative process among participants, which is consistent with other much larger surveys of stakeholders engaged in collaborative decision-making and planning processes elsewhere. The Hawke’s Bay case study also provides important insights into best-practice management of collaborative planning. The case-study experience shows the importance of allowing sufficient time to build trust and social capital among participants; to ensure the delivery of science to support decision making by stakeholders; and the value of engaging as a group, outside the deliberation room. Consideration of these and other design criteria outlined can help ensure all key stakeholders remain engaged in a collectively driven process.

Contact: Nicholas Cradock-Henry

Sustainable Development

topSurvey of rural decision-makers

Canterbury farms are larger than Southland and Waikato farms, on averageA recent survey has highlighted interesting new data on our primary industry and will provide useful information for policymakers at national and regional levels as well as for other land managers.

The ‘Survey of Rural Decision Makers’ was designed jointly by Landcare Research and AgResearch with input from the Ministry for the Environment, the Ministry for Primary Industries and Dairy NZ. The survey is part of a wider programme of work that will enable the developers of agent-based models to include a wider range of validated behaviour types into their modelling. The spatially-explicit economic model Agent-based Rural Land Use New Zealand (ARLUNZ) was developed by Landcare Research to analyse the impact of policies on land use, farm returns and environmental impacts. ARLUNZ can help forecast the land use effects resulting from changes in social networks and decision-making.

However, before we even start the modelling, the survey itself has attracted considerable interest and the resulting (almost raw) data provides some useful insights. Here, researcher Pike Brown shares some of the initial analysis.

Waikato rural decision-makers have 10% more farming experience, on average, than respondents from Canterbury and Southland – with the vast majority working on more than one farm in their career. Waikato farms are predominantly dairying, which differs from the other two regions, where sheep and beef is the main enterprise.

Canterbury farms are larger than Southland and Waikato farms, on average. Over half of the Canterbury respondents stated that they undertake more than one enterprise on their farm and 46% of respondents had changed the mix of enterprises (in terms of land use in hectares) by more than 20% in recent years. Rural decision-makers in Canterbury are more likely to hold intentions to intensify their enterprise mix than decision-makers in either Southland or Waikato. The majority of respondents (in all regions) believe that they are unlikely to change their enterprise mix due to regulatory pressure in the next 5 years. Interestingly (but perhaps not necessarily related) decision-makers in Canterbury were more educated than their counterparts in the other two regions.

Respondents in Southland are statistically younger and less educated on average than those in the other two regions. However, tradition is a stronger motivator in Southland than in either Canterbury or Waikato. Overall the results indicate that although tradition is not the primary motivation for farming decisions for a majority of respondents, it is nonetheless an important motivator for some.

While Southland respondents are more oriented towards production than Waikato and Canterbury respondents, they also acknowledge the importance of sustaining natural habitats for native fish and birds to a greater degree. While most respondents believe their family members and farming community want them to farm in an environmentally sustainable manner, they also acknowledge that the social expectation for farming sustainably is significantly stronger amongst the New Zealand public. Only 22.5% of respondents had selected a successor, and if one was identified, it was usually one of their children.

Social networks of rural decision-makers’ are of a similar size across regions, but dairy farmers are considerably more connected through their peer networks than other farmers in all three regions. Veterinarians are the most trusted and important source of farming information for respondents, followed by accountants. Overall, other farmers are the third most trusted and important source of information for rural decision-makers (only 5.5% of farmers surveyed did not discuss farming with any other farmers). The least trusted and least important sources of information were central government, television and radio, and regional councils.

The survey questions covered farmer demographics, farm characteristics, succession plans, risk tolerance, profitability, information sources, objectives, farm management practices, farmer intentions, perceived behavioural control, social norms, and environmental attitudes. The analysed sample comprised 283 farmers in Canterbury, 136 in Southland, and 117 in Waikato.

Conclusions – so far

These data were also used in an inferential model to understand which rural decision-makers had adopted specific management practices. To summarise the results, land use by itself is not a sufficient predictor of behaviour. Aspects that do shape the behaviour of decision-makers include demographics (e.g. age and gender), land characteristics (e.g. size of farm), location, attitudes, level of perceived personal control, social expectations, and the size of one’s social network. Conversely, a decision-makers’ tolerance of risk is not a sufficient predictor of behaviour.

Future work

A similar survey with expanded questions for growers and foresters was developed with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Science and Innovation group. It has currently been distributed in 13 other regions and anonymous results will be available in October.

Contact: Pike Brown

topPolicy briefs designed to share learning across regional and central domains

Sherry River restoration, NelsonMuch of the work at Landcare Research is a direct response to a policy question or challenge – usually one that requires robust evidence presented from an independent source. To help others with similar questions, particularly with information that can be applied in a number of areas, we are developing a range of short policy briefs to make this knowledge accessible.

Recent work in the Freshwater Values Monitoring and Outcomes programme underpins two new policy briefs.

Using mātauranga Māori to inform freshwater management provides practical guidance for integrating traditional knowledge into freshwater management policy and practice under the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi. A framework of six steps is recommended to create a robust and consistent process to support the engagement of iwi / hapū in the decision-making, planning and policy development. The values, activities and uses identified in this process can then be called upon for monitoring, and the setting of appropriate local limits and standards.

This work will also be presented at the upcoming Landcare Research Link seminar in Wellington on 30 July at the Ministry for the Environment.

Understanding conflict over freshwater values in a regional plan. Documenting freshwater values in a regional plan makes specified values more prominent than those not included – and this shapes the field on which stakeholders make claims about desirable environmental and community futures. The experience of Tasman District Council shows that, for stakeholders, the documentation process is inextricably linked to the decision process for making trade-offs between values.

The Land and Water Forum has recommended collaborative processes as a way to identify values and resolve contests over them. The Tasman experience suggests these steps may be more effectively approached through a single process, rather than documenting values first and only later using these to guide decisions. A single process focuses the debate on how to accommodate competing values rather than debating which values are significant enough to include in a plan.

This work was presented at the June Landcare Research Link seminar and the presentation can be found here.

Contact: Christine Harper

Further reading:

topValuing nature and development of a national natural capital assessment

Participants engage during the conferenceThe Valuing Nature conference in Wellington earlier this month provided a platform where government, business and researchers could start the discussion about how NZ could account for natural capital and the services provided by our natural capital (or ecosystems services). The conference brought together international experts in ecosystem services assessment who were able to share experiences from UK, the IPCC and United Nations initiatives. Panel discussions with NZ scientists and thought-leaders (including Suzie Greenhalgh and Caroline Saunders of Landcare Research) provided local content and plenty of opportunity for discussion on topics as diverse as freshwater reforms, environmental domain plans, collaborative processes and the cost of environmental health.

Nick Smith (Minister for Conservation) opened the conference by reminding us of current government priorities:

  • Good environmental reporting. NZ needs to understand the state of its natural capital alongside the state of the economy (GDP). The RMA reforms before the House will ensure greater consistency of reporting and less contest about the underlying methodologies.
  • Collaborative Processes. The Land and Water forum is an illustration of how NZ can move from a contested model to one of shared outcomes.
  • Smart use of economic tools. NZ needs to improve economic tools to ensure optimal use of natural resources and not to run down its natural capital. An important message is that we can’t put a dollar value on everything, but in some situations a market instrument would bring about better outcomes.
  • Science and technology. Human innovation is an important component of how to resolve many of the environmental issues facing NZ.

One of the conference keynote speakers Sir Bob Watson* highlighted the value of spatialised information to optimise ecosystem services. His description of the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment (UK-NEA) generated significant interest - which continued into the workshop session on the next day.

Short Master Class on Ecosystems Services and Natural Capital

  • Because many goods and services provided by ecosystems (e.g., clean water and air) are not included in markets, they are often taken for granted, undervalued, or not valued in decision-making processes (e.g., in balance sheets and cost-benefit analyses).
  • Nature and the benefits people derive from it are part of an ‘invisible economy’ that is widely believed should be made explicit in decisions.
  • Developing approaches to explicitly include nature into decision making is an opportunity to improve policy and biodiversity outcomes, at least in part by capturing the value of investing in natural capital both nationally and regionally.
  • National natural capital assessment can provide the basis for achieving this and is based upon a conceptual framework that emphasises a collaborative approach for integrated assessment of ecosystem functions, stocks and flows, future scenarios and implications for human wellbeing.
  • International considerations include obligations and agreements, best practice and the integration of global and national assessments / processes

Following the full conference, a further workshop explored the opportunities and possibilities for conducting a NZ Natural Capital Assessment. This session was led by the Department of Conservation and made the most of the experience of our international visitors along with 25 representatives from central government, local government, and CRIs. John Dymond and Georgina Hart from Landcare Research participated and Bob Frame was one of the facilitators. The knowledge brought to the workshop drew on a wide range of interests and expertise.

The workshop covered key steps towards recognition of the value of ecosystems and the services they provide, and how they need to be managed for sustainable economic growth. The vision of “embedding the understanding of natural capital at all scales of decision making” was agreed by the workshop participants and delivered as an accord to the Minister of Conservation, Hon Dr Nick Smith, at the end of the day.

Importantly, the workshop also developed a draft strategy and process to continue to develop the vision and accord. An integrated multi-disciplinary, multi-scale, collaborative approach is favoured to capture the connectivity and interdependencies of ecosystem services and the participation of diverse stakeholders.

*Sir Robert Watson has held many interesting positions including chair of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), chair of MEA (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment), and chair of the UK-NEA (United-Kingdom National Ecosystem Assessment).

Contact: Christine Harper


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