Biodiversity assets often require conservation management, which, in turn, necessitates decisions about which ecosystem, community or species should be prioritised to receive resources. Population viability analysis (PVA) uses a suite of quantitative methods to estimate the likelihood of population decline and extinction for a given species, and can be used to assess a population's status, providing useful information to decision-makers. In New Zealand, a range of taxa have been analysed using the PVA approach, but the scope of its implementation has not previously been reviewed.
Polynesian settlement of New Zealand (c. 1000 yr B.P.) led directly to the extinction or reduction of much of the vertebrate fauna, destruction of half of the lowland and montane forests, and widespread soil erosion. The climate and natural vegetation changed over the same time but had negligible effects on the fauna compared with the impact of settlement. The most severe modification occurred between 750 and 500 years ago, when a rapidly increasing human population, over-exploited animal populations and used fire to clear the land.
The history of the New Zealand biota over the last 7000 years may be divided into three phases. BC 5000 to AD 1000 was a period of comparative ecological stasis. That equilibrium was disrupted between AD 1000 and AD 1800 by the destruction of most of the New Zealand plant-herbivore systems, the co-evolutionary relationship between the plants and the vertebrate herbivores being decoupled by about AD 1400. After AD 1800 new plant-herbivore systems were progressively developed and new ecological relationships forged.
The takahe (Notornis mantelli), an endangered rail once widely distributed through New Zealand, had become restricted to Fiordland, and possibly Nelson and the Ruahine Ranges, by European times. Two contentious viewpoints have been advanced to explain the decline: climate and vegetational changes in the late Pleistocene and Holocene; and ecological changes induced by early Polynesians. These theories are examined in relation to the habitat requirements of takahe in its present restricted range, the historical and sub-fossil record, and the possible age of the sub-fossils.
The endangered grand skink (Oligosoma grande) is a New Zealand endemic lizard that persists as metapopulations occupying rock patches within matrices of mixed native vegetation and modified agricultural pasture. Parameterisation of metapopulation models applied in conservation biology assumes complete detectability of target species. Incomplete detectability may result in underestimates of occupancy and biased estimates of extinction and colonisation rates.
Since the 1980s, morphological and molecular research has resulted in significant advances in understanding the relationships and origins of the recent terrestrial vertebrate fauna in the New Zealand biogeographic region. This research has led to many taxonomic changes, with a significant increase in the number of bird and reptile species recognised. It has also resulted in the recognition of several more Holocene (Hemidactylus frenatus).
We outline the scope of this special issue of New Zealand Journal of Ecology, which reviews progress in New Zealand ecology to 2009, based on a symposium in 2007. Both the issue and symposium update a 1986 conference and 1989 special issue of NZ J Ecol called “Moas, Mammals and Climate” which has been influential and widely cited.