NZES Hot Topics

Read our Current Hot Topics


What are NZES Hot Topics?

Following hot on the heels of the success of the Hot Topics programme run by the Ecological Society of Australia, the NZES aims to improve communication of science from the conservation and ecological community within Aotearoa New Zealand to the people of NZ. The NZES Hot Topic reports will likewise provide a robust source of ecological and conservation science to counter misinformation and evidence complacency. The programme was established in 2018 as an initiative of the Kauri Fund.

NZES Hot Topic reports are evidence-based communiqués on conservation, environmental and predominantly ecological issues that are currently either in the media, or of interest to a broad cross-section of people from policy makers, land managers, conservation volunteers. NZES Hot Topics aim to provide clear, concise, evidence-based statements that aspire to enhance the nature of scientific debate in New Zealand and objectively inform public discourse on topics of national and regional importance.

As part of the aim of NZES Hot Topics to provide robust, relevant and accessible scientific information, the reports will be maintained as active documents and as such will be updated as and when new evidence is produced by scientific studies.

Hot Topic reports comprise of a one-page / 500 word overview of the issue, synthesising peer-reviewed and published scientific research. Each report is accompanied by a list of (preferably) open-access literature that provides support for the assertions made.

Hot Topics reports are produced in one of two ways: 1) scientists working in the ecological space are contacted by the editorial team to provide expertise on a Hot Topic; 2) NZES members can suggest Hot Topics and submit reports to the editorial team (see below).

NZES Hot Topics is governed by an editorial team consisting of ecologists George Perry, Anna Probert, and Bridgette Farnworth.

Who can use the NZES Hot Topic reports?

Anyone! The aim of these reports is to inform. If you are interested in an ecological / conservation / environmental issue, passionate about a cause, or have heard anyone from neighbour to politician misrepresenting the facts of an issue in discussion or debate, then use this information! Social media links (e.g. twitter icons) are available to readily and easily provide access to the reports. If you have information that you can contribute to a Hot Topic report please forward this to the editorial team.

Who gets to write an NZES Hot Topic report?

Anyone who has specific knowledge and expertise on the subject. This is not limited to the research community. If you have recently undertaken a review of a topic, are knowledgeable on the issue at hand, or simply are passionate about a subject and can produce a short overview of the peer-reviewed literature you are welcome to submit; please contact the editorial team initially to agree on a proposed topic. Contribute facts and evidence to public discourse in a form more accessible to the people of New Zealand than scientific literature.

What will be accepted by the editorial board?

Evidence-based, clear review of peer-reviewed literature. The literature supporting a submitted report does not have to be extensive, three or four articles to provide support will suffice; however, the report must represent the broader literature. Opinion pieces will not be accepted.

Information for submission:

Please provide a 1 page / 500 word overview on a proposed Hot Topic with at least three peer-reviewed scientific documents supporting statements made in the report. Email to the Hot Topics Editors.


Current Hot Topics

RNAi: a novel tool for vertebrate pest management in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Stoat with tui

The development of RNA-based vaccines against the virus causing COVID-19 has highlighted the use of RNA as a tool in solving complex biological problems. One major conservation issue facing Aotearoa is the eradication of mammalian predators (possums, mustelids, and rats) by 2050. The Predator Free 2050 target is challenging as current tools have limitations. No trap is efficient enough to remove 100% of individuals, and our currently available toxins are broad-spectrum; therefore, there are risks to non-target species, and social acceptability issues. The development and application of new vertebrate pest control tools is therefore critical to help us achieve our conservation goals. Although RNAi is still in the exploratory, proof-of-concept stages for vertebrate pest control, this article explores the possibility of leveraging the cellular processes of RNA interference (RNAi) for the development of a new generation of control tools that are pest-specific.

Ecological damage from microplastic pollution - horror or hyperbole?

Plastic pollution

Plastic in the environment has been accumulating rapidly since mass production began in the 1950’s and concern has grown recently over the environmental damage it may cause. Plastic pollution is now variously described as an ‘Armageddon’, ‘Tsunami’, or ‘Crisis’ of plastic in popular press. This has led to exponential growth in research focused on plastic, particularly smaller ‘microplastics’, in the past decade. But what do we actually know about the ecological effects of microplastic pollution?

Waitbait conservation in light of recent fishing reforms

Inanga photo

In Aotearoa, whitebait refers to the juveniles of five species of freshwater galaxiid fish. The fish are caught by whitebaiters in spring as they return from the sea to rivers to complete their lifecycle. Four out of the five species are classified as declining or worse, and there has been growing concern over the fate of each of the species. In response to this concern the government has recently tightened whitebait fishing regulations.


The plastic tide is turning

Dead albatross chick with stomach full of plastic

This year’s Plastic Free July will mark 10 years of a global movement to raise awareness about the problems that plastic pollution has on our marine and terrestrial ecosystems, biodiversity and communities. It was seabirds that were some of the first messengers of problems of plastic in our oceans.


The underserving and under-representation of Māori scientists in New Zealand’s science system

Tara McAllister doing field work, Ōpihi River\

Māori scientists are severely under-represented in the publicly funded science sector, including universities and crown-research institutes (CRIs). Between 2008 and 2018, Māori comprised only 0–8% of the scientific workforce employed in these organisations. Shockingly, one university failed to employ even a single Māori scientist over a period of 11 years, despite increasing numbers of Māori obtaining degrees in higher education (Table 1). This indicates that universities and CRIs are failing to build a sustainable Māori workforce and highlights that despite espousals of valuing diversity, that they continue to ignore their obligations outlined in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Although in Aotearoa, leaders within the science sector often state that Māori have low participation in science, this is an inaccurate assertion. Rather, Māori are actively and passively excluded from the science system due to colonialism, institutional racism and the continued privileging of western knowledge and non-Māori researchers.


Indigenizing agroecology in Aotearoa

There is increasing recognition worldwide that native biodiversity plays a vital role in building agricultural ecosystem resilience. Kaitiakitanga is a key principle from the Māori world view to assist in sustaining native biodiversity in New Zealand landscapes. However, we argue that in agricultural landscapes, kaitiakitanga alone cannot achieve desired biodiversity outcomes. Like kaitiakitanga, agroecology is a holistic pathway for incorporating ecological and social processes into the management of agricultural landscapes using methods that will protect the land, biodiversity and consequently the people. In addition to kaitiakitanga aspirations of sustaining land and resources, our primary question is what is the innovation within mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) that might also lead to enhanced yields and increased profits for all?


One Billion Trees: an opportunity for (re)building resilient and multi-functional agricultural landscapes

The One Billion Trees (1BT) programme was launched in early 2018 by the newly-established Te Uru Rākau/Forestry New Zealand with the goal of planting one billion trees by 2028. This initiative aims to use reforestation to improve land productivity, provide alternative incomes (e.g. tree and carbon farming, honey production), and improve water quality, biodiversity, habitat provisioning and carbon sequestration. In parallel, the government has the goal of making New Zealand Carbon neutral by 2050 and will be aiming to address the current biodiversity crisis via a revamped Biodiversity Strategy in 2020.

Threats to New Zealand's dryland ecosystems

Recent land clearance has laid waste to native ecosystems across significant areas of the inland South Island, destroying already tenuous endemic species populations and creating a major conservation burden for future generations.  Ecological research to identify, measure, understand, and communicate the effects of land use change is essential to halt and turn the tide.

Cats and biodiversity (in NZ)


Regardless of how well-fed they are, cats kill wildlife and are also a source of disease (e.g., toxoplasma) that can kill native species and affect human health. Feral cat management is not currently contentious in New Zealand, although some felt it was wrong to exclude cats from the Predator Free New Zealand 2050 vision, even in the face of anticipated strong social opposition. However, management of stray and pet cats is certainly a problem.