New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2006) 30(2): 169- 177

Recent loss of indigenous cover in New Zealand

Research Article
Susan Walker 1,*
Robbie Price 2
Daniel Rutledge 2
R. T. Theo Stephens 3
William G. Lee 1
  1. Landcare Research, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin
  2. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton
  3. Department of Conservation, Private Bag 1930, Dunedin, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Recently developed national spatial databases enable improved estimates of how much of the full range of New Zealand’s terrestrial biodiversity pattern remains, its rates of change, and how much is legally protected. Analysis using a classification of land environments derived from soil and climate data layers (LENZ) as a surrogate for biodiversity pattern, and spatial databases of land cover and legal protection, shows extreme (>70%) loss of indigenous cover in 57% of land environments, and poor protection (<20% land area protected) in more than two thirds. Loss of indigenous cover has continued, with 49% of environments having lost indigenous cover from 1996/97 to 2001/02, and the highest rates occuring where indigenous cover was already most depleted. The Resource Management Act (1991) (an Act of Parliament bringing together laws governing land, air and water resources and concentrating on the environmental effects of human activities) and associated provisions have not halted these losses on private land. Monitoring progress towards halting biodiversity decline in New Zealand will depend on maintenance and updating of these national databases, and development of measures of processes that sustain indigenous species assemblages and ecosystem functions.