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Why biodiversity matters

This page explains what biodiversity is, why it's important, and how it could be impacted by climate change. It also provides links to further information on biodiversity.

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity is short for biological diversity. It describes the variety and diversity of all life on land, in fresh water and in the sea, including the places or ecosystems where they live and the genes they contain. When we talk about biodiversity we generally think about the 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).

We also think of our distinctive ecosystems (the interacting system of the living species and non-living parts such as air, nutrients and water) such as forests, sand dunes and lakes.

Why is biodiversity important?

Our biodiversity provides the life supporting systems that enable all organisms, including humans, to survive. The important resources and services, such as clean air and water, fertile soils, pollution and flood control provided by biodiversity underpins our economic and social sustainability. It also provides products such as timber, fuel, food and medicines. Our farming, forestry and horticulture depend on the resources and services provided by biological systems. Other benefits include recreation, aesthetic, scientific, education and cultural values and a sense of identity.

Protecting the natural resources and the introduced species on which these industries are based, from pests, weeds and diseases is important to New Zealand.

Biodiversity and climate change

Climate change will inevitably impact on biodiversity. A number of biological changes have already been observed globally including shifts in the range of some species, and earlier timing of leaf-unfolding, bird migration, and egg-laying in some species. Other effects may include changes to marine and land ecosystem productivity, and disruption of freshwater ecosystems due to warmer water and lower flows in rivers and streams. Threats to biodiversity in New Zealand may arise from the establishment and expansion of invasive pests and weeds under climate change. Biodiversity can also help provide stability and resilience as we adapt to the fluctuations and disturbances brought about by climate change.

Find out more

For more information on the state of New Zealand’s biodiversity see Chapter 5 of Our land 2018 report.

See also the New Zealand biodiversity website.