New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2008) 32(2): 240- 255

The forgotten 60%: bird ecology and management in New Zealand’s agricultural landscape

Forum Article
Catriona J. MacLeod 1*
Grant Blackwell 2
Henrik Moller 2
John Innes 3
Ralph Powlesland 4
  1. Landcare Research, PO Box 40, Lincoln 7640, New Zealand
  2. Agriculture Research Group on Sustainability, University of Otago, PO Box 56, Dunedin, New Zealand
  3. Landcare Research, Private Bag 3127, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand
  4. Research, Development and Improvement Division, Department of Conservation, PO Box 10 420, Wellington, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

Production lands make up 58% of Aotearoa New Zealand’s landcover and contribute greatly not only to the national economy but also to patterns and trends in native and introduced avian biodiversity. However, unlike in native forest and other indigenous habitats, birds in agro-ecosystems have received little attention to date. We argue that this is due to (1) a research focus on understanding the causes of the dramatic decline of New Zealand’s critically endangered, endemic species, (2) an adherence to a ‘preservation for intrinsic value’ over a ‘conservation through sustainable use’ paradigm for environmental management, and (3) a historical view of production landscapes as being devoid of endemic and native species and thus of no conservation value. In countering these attitudes, we suggest that the agricultural matrix may contain more native species than many people believe, and that many introduced bird species are key contributors to the social and environmental performance and resilience of these systems. We draw attention to the context, composition, ecology, and status of native and introduced birds in production landscapes in New Zealand, particularly in the face of ongoing agricultural intensification. We first identify the potential roles of local habitat, landscape composition, and introduced predators in shaping farmland bird communities. We then highlight the potential threats and opportunities for birds posed by ongoing intensification, particularly the influences of habitat modification and simplification, increased ecological subsidies through farm inputs, increased stocking rates and yields, and altered predator–prey interactions. We suggest the landscape is the appropriate spatial scale for research and management, and call for an integrated approach to the investigation of farmland birds that combines ecology, sociology, and agro-ecosystems management, and includes farmers, researchers, regulators, and the wider New Zealand public.