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National environmental indicators

See chapter 1, ‘Environmental reporting’, for more information on the core national indicators and how they are used.

It is neither practical nor possible to measure the distribution and health of every native plant and animal species or ecosystem, to assess the state of New Zealand’s native biodiversity. Instead, the monitoring of New Zealand’s land environments and a selected range of native species, habitats, and ecosystems can provide an indicative measure of the state of and changes to native biodiversity.

There are two national environmental indicators for biodiversity.

The first provides information on the area of land covered by native vegetation, including the area under legal protection.

The second indicator provides information on the distribution of selected native species.

The distributions of the following species are measured to provide information for reporting on this indicator:

  • lesser short tailed bat

  • kiwi

  • kākā

  • kōkako

  • mōhua

  • wrybill

  • dactylanthus.

Further details on the indicators follow.

Other information is included in this chapter to present a more rounded picture of New Zealand’s native biodiversity as follows:

  • changes in native land cover, as classified by the Land Cover Database, a satellite map of New Zealand’s land cover which describes the types of features present on the surface of the earth

  • the location of protected areas

  • the extent of wetland areas

  • conservation efforts on private land

  • the extent and type of pest management on public conservation lands

  • the extent of some freshwater weed invasions

  • observed changes in the distribution of some common native birds.

New Zealand’s diverse land environments host many different ecosystems and species.

Source: Courtesy of the Department of Conservation.

Land area with native vegetation

This indicator shows the proportion of land environment covered by native vegetation. It also illustrates the proportion of various native ecosystem types under legal protection.

Data on native vegetation can indicate changes in habitats that are suitable for various native species. Overlaying a map of native vegetation with a map of New Zealand’s land environments shows which areas have lost the most native vegetation, and what remains, according to its ecosystem type.

For this mapping and analysis, two reporting tools are used: the New Zealand Land Cover Database, which maps all land cover for mainland New Zealand based on satellite imagery; and the Land Environments of New Zealand classification, an environment-based classification of ecosystems, mapped across New Zealand’s landscape. See chapter 1, ‘Environmental reporting’, for a more detailed explanation of these tools.

To illustrate the vegetation that has been safeguarded and the types of environments protected nationally, we combine data on native vegetation and land environment with the total number of hectares legally protected as public conservation land, regional parks, and covenants on private land.

Distribution of selected native plants and animals

This environmental indicator shows whether selected native species are present or absent in areas where they might be expected to be found, and the change in distribution of these species over time.

Monitoring the quality and extent of suitable native habitats for a selection of ‘indicator species’ is a practical way of assessing changes in New Zealand’s native biodiversity.

Changes in the distribution of a small number of indicator species over specific periods are used to illustrate the changing extent of native habitats over time. The three periods used are: before human settlement; during the 1970s and 1980s; and the present.

Seven indicator species have been selected from the national biodiversity indicator programme currently under development by the Department of Conservation. These species are all managed by the Department under recovery plans, and they were selected for their usefulness as indicators, their habitat requirements, the availability of data for them, and their level of threat. Table12.3 shows the selection of indicator species and their descriptions.

Table 12.3: Selection of native species used to illustrate changes in New Zealand’s native biodiversity

Name What is it? Why is it an indicator?

Lesser short-tailed bat/pekapeka (Mystacina tuberculata)

Referred to as lesser short-tailed bat in this report

Endemic bat. Bats are our only native terrestrial mammal

Shows the general health and structure of forested ecosystems in many parts of New Zealand.

Kiwi (Apteryx spp.) (five species)

Endemic, flightless bird

A good indicator of the abundance of key mammalian predators in a range of forest types in many parts of the country.

Kākā (Nestor meridionalis)

Endemic forest parrot

A good indicator of possum and stoat abundance in a range of forest types in the North and South Islands.

Kōkako (Callaeas cinerea)

Endemic New Zealand wattlebird

An indicator of rat and possum densities in North Island forests. The kōkako, because of its sensitivity, only exists in managed sites.

Mōhua/yellowhead (Mohoua ochrocephala)

Referred to as mōhua in this report

Endemic insectivorous forest bird

A very sensitive indicator of stoat and rat densities in South Island beech forest.

Wrybill/ngutu pare (Anarhynchus frontalis)

Referred to as wrybill in this report

Small, endemic shorebird that is highly specialised for breeding in braided rivers

These birds depend on South Island braided rivers for their breeding habitat and provide a good indicator of various threats degrading this ecosystem, such as pest predators and direct human impact, including water extraction and four-wheel-drive activities.

Dactylanthus/Woodrose/pua o te rēinga (Dactylanthus taylorii)

Referred to as dactylanthus in this report

Endemic, parasitic flowering plant

Indicates aspects of forest health in parts of the North Island, including densities of introduced browsers, presence of native pollinators, seed dispersers, and host trees.

Source: Ministry for the Environment.

Limitations of the indicators

The indicators used to report on biodiversity assess only native land-based and freshwater ecosystems. They do not include marine ecosystems. Refer to chapter 11, ‘Oceans’, for information on marine biodiversity.

The indicators do not provide information on ecosystems at a community or habitat level – that is, the distribution and number of various species in an ecosystem or habitat cannot be determined on the basis of the indicators in this chapter. Neither do the indicators provide information about the quality of the habitats or ecosystems.

Legal protection of native vegetation does not indicate the condition of an ecosystem or habitat – that is, it does not show how effective the legal protection is. Conversely, active pest management on land contributes to biodiversity goals, even if the land is not formally protected.

Information about the indicator species discussed in this chapter illustrates changes in the distribution of these species, but does not illustrate the abundance or stability of populations.

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity 1993

The United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity has 190 parties and although it is largely descriptive it is considered the primary international convention on biodiversity. New Zealand’s 1993 ratification of the convention confirmed our commitment to international efforts to conserve global biodiversity and use it sustainably.

Under the convention, governments are required to develop national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and to integrate these into broader national plans for sustainable development. These requirements are met in New Zealand through domestic environmental policy and initiatives, including the New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000.

New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy 2000

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy reflects New Zealand’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity. The strategy sets out the Government’s response to declining native biodiversity in broad terms. It identifies national goals and principles for managing New Zealand’s biodiversity, and action plans for achieving the goals.

The biodiversity indicators and environmental classifications presented in this report form part of the strategy’s action plan for Theme 9 (‘Information, knowledge and capacity’) (Department of Conservation and Ministry for the Environment, 2000).