New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(1): 207- 217

Life histories, dispersal, invasions, and global change: progress and prospects in New Zealand ecology, 1989–2029

Review Article
Dave Kelly 1*
Jon J. Sullivan 2
  1. School of Biological Sciences, University of Canterbury, Private Bag 4800, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand
  2. Bio-Protection Research Centre, PO Box 84, Lincoln University, Lincoln 7647, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

We highlight three areas of significant progress in ecology since 1989 which are particularly relevant to New Zealand, and three major challenges for the next two decades. Progress: (1) The unusual life histories of New Zealand organisms, including extreme longevity and low reproductive rates, are now seen as efficient responses to the low-disturbance environment present before the arrival of large mammals, including humans. (2) Recent data show that long distance dispersal has been far more common than previously supposed, changing our image of New Zealand from a Gondwanan ark to the “flypaper of the Pacific”. (3) Greatly improved techniques for pest control, and innovative species management, have stabilised numbers of many of the most charismatic of New Zealand’s threatened species. Problems: (1) Native species continue to decline, including many previously thought to be stable, and improved phylogenetics and new discoveries have added threatened species. (2) Despite increased emphasis on biosecurity, biological invasions are continuing, driven by increased trade and lags in naturalisation. (3) Conservation efforts risk being overwhelmed by the direct effects of increasing human population, resource use, invasions, and global climate change at a time when human food supplies and economies are coming under increasing pressure from environmental constraints. Conclusions: (1) We need improved ecological understanding and more management tools for invasive and threatened species, especially for species other than birds. (2) In these decades of rapid climate change and habitat conversion, there is an urgent need for more widespread and sustainable integration of native species into New Zealand’s rural and urban lowland landscapes.