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Why biodiversity matters

What biodiversity is, why it's important, and how it can be impacted by climate change. 

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is short for biological diversity. It describes the variety and diversity of all life on land, in fresh water and the sea. This includes ecosystems and the genes they contain.  It includes individual birds, plants, fish, insects and other species that are special to New Zealand  ̶  our indigenous biodiversity. There are many examples, such as kiwi, tui, inanga (whitebait), weta, and ti kouka (cabbage tree).

Why is biodiversity important?

Our biodiversity provides the life supporting systems that enable all organisms, including humans, to survive. Our wetlands purify water and help prevent flooding and drought. Indigenous forests provide carbon sinks and purify the air we breathe. Forests also provide products such as timber, fuel, food and medicines. Our farming, forestry and horticulture depend on the resources and services provided by biological systems.

Indigenous biodiversity is often found nowhere else in the world. It is important to New Zealand’s environment, culture, society and economy. For Māori, the connection with nature is one of whakapapa (kinship).

We recently consulted on a proposal to help protect native plants, birds and animals. Find out about the proposal.

Biodiversity and climate change

Climate change is impacting on biodiversity. Biological changes are being observed globally. These include shifts in the range of some species, and earlier timing of leaf-unfolding, bird migration, and egg-laying in some species.

Other impacts are changes to marine and land ecosystem productivity and disruption of freshwater ecosystems due to warmer water and lower flows in rivers and streams. Biodiversity can help provide stability and resilience as we adapt to the fluctuations and disturbances brought about by climate change.

Current state of New Zealand’s biodiversity

Our use of our land plus invasive pests and diseases have caused our indigenous ecosystems and species to be in a state of rapid decline.  According to publications such as our report series Our Land 2018 and Environment Aoteoroa 2019 we have around 4000 species threatened or at risk of becoming extinct.

This means we could lose more than 80 per cent of our reptiles and frogs, bats and birds. Nearly half of all our bird species have disappeared since humans first landed. We continue to lose fundamental ecosystems and habitats like tussock grasslands, sand dunes, indigenous scrubland and indigenous forests.  

For more information see the section Our native plants, animals, and ecosystems are under threat in the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report.

Find out more about biodiversity

New Zealand biodiversity website