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New map shows biodiversity priorities in every catchment – Eco-index

A new interactive map, launched today, will allow iwi, community groups, businesses, government and land managers to better understand the current biodiversity of Aotearoa New Zealand by sharing information on every ecosystem in every catchment of the country.

“Our aim is to help our nation restore native biodiversity. So as a first step, we’ve built a map that allows people to explore what their local biodiversity landscape would look like without human activities and where the areas of restoration priority are,” said Dr John Reid (Ngāti Pikiao, Tainui), co-lead of Eco-index.

“In science it is known that the game changes for biodiversity if we can safeguard at least 15% of the expected natural range of each native ecosystem. So our initiative made this idea into a long-term goal. In some areas, reaching 15% requires complete reconstruction of native ecosystems through ecological restoration efforts like tree planting and non-native species removal. In areas where 15% native land cover already exists, protecting those existing ecosystems is key,” said Dr Kiri Joy Wallace, co-lead of Eco-index.

In many areas, Aotearoa New Zealand’s native biodiversity is dramatically lower than the safe lower limit needed for the ecological processes we depend upon. We need native ecosystems like forests, and wetlands to produce valuable services like reduced erosion, flooding, carbon emissions, air, soil and water pollution, non-native species spread, and also to provide for people’s physical and mental wellbeing.

“Native ecosystems once cloaked Aotearoa New Zealand. Forests, herb fields, wetlands, sand dunes and many more ecosystems were woven together with diverse and flourishing communities of plants, animals, invertebrates, and fungi,” said Dr Wallace.

“Human-driven replacement of these ecosystems with modified landscapes means that native ecosystems now exist as a patchwork of fragments which together are much less than their expected natural range, especially in lowland areas,” said Dr Wallace.

Large tracts and small patches of native ecosystems can together support more native species than either can separately, the key is to have at least 15% land cover in total. Scientific observations of a range of ecosystems and their constituent species indicate that once the area of an ecosystem drops below 10-20% of its expected natural range, the number of species it can support declines suddenly.

“Land managers, decision-makers, community environmentalists, and policy-makers have overwhelmingly good intentions, but they still have lots of questions that we hope our new map will begin to answer,” said Dr Reid.

Eco-index today launched a free interactive map to provide information on the expected natural range of plants and ecosystems within each local catchment and the restoration priority areas where local biodiversity is most at risk.

“At a national level, there are challenges around biodiversity data collection, access, and sharing,” said Sam Rowland, Programme Manager – Nature, Systems Change at the Sustainable Business Network and co-chair of the Eastern Whio Link. “This map is a good start at fixing those issues and we’re excited to utilise this information for biodiversity strategies and planning.”

The Ecosystem Restoration Map was designed for land management decision-makers in Aotearoa New Zealand and was developed with input from iwi leaders, rural professionals, community group leaders, council representatives and industry peak bodies to help with prioritisation of restoration action in real-world scenarios.

“Te Rarawa is committed to bringing back the mauri of our whenua through our Me He Wai project. This map will add to the information we have about our rohe and support our kaitiakitanga, especially when we’re thinking about restoring local wetlands and kahikatea-pukatea-tawa forest,” said Maihi Makiha (Te Rarawa) Manu Kura for Me He Wai.

The interactive map includes targets for reaching the 15% land cover goal for each catchment (85 catchments nationally) and by ecosystem type (31 different ecosystems). These appear along with stories of biodiversity success, links to local catchment groups that people can get involved with, and other helpful map layers.

“As sheep farmers near Lake Coleridge, we are very lucky to have many pockets of old and regenerating bush still on our station. This map is going to be a fantastic tool for planning native planting on our farm and the other farms near us. We are trying to regenerate pockets of what should be growing here, so our aim is to reintroduce kahikatea and mataī at lower altitudes,” said Jo Johns of Glenthorne Station.

Jo is a NZ Merino grower, who, with her husband Chris, and another three other Gorge farmers recently started a local catchment group to protect their part of the Wilberforce and Rakaia River Valleys.

“The targets for each local ecosystem were carefully calculated by the Eco-index team. First, we looked at the ecosystem types that would likely exist without the presence of people and the area they would naturally occupy. Then we compared this to the native ecosystem cover of today, allowing us to see what was missing, and then recommend these targets for the range of ecosystem types that belong in every catchment in the country,” said Dr Wallace.


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