New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(3): 342- 355

New Zealand’s exotic plantation forests as habitats for threatened indigenous species

Forum Article
S.M. Pawson 1*
C.E. Ecroyd 2
R. Seaton 3
W.B. Shaw 4
E.G. Brockerhoff 1
  1. Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd), PO Box 29237, Fendalton, Christchurch, New Zealand
  2. Scion (New Zealand Forest Research Institute Ltd), Private Bag 3020, Sala Street, Rotorua, New Zealand
  3. Golder Associates (NZ) Ltd, PO Box, 33-849, Takapuna, Auckland, New Zealand
  4. Wildland Consultants Ltd, PO Box 7137, Te Ngae, Rotorua, New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

The contribution of exotic plantation forests to the conservation of New Zealand’s flora and fauna is a somewhat controversial issue, partly because the establishment of some plantations involved the conversion of indigenous vegetation. Such conversion no longer occurs within the professional forest industry and there is a growing appreciation of the contribution of ‘production’ land, including plantation forests, to the protection of New Zealand’s unique indigenous biodiversity. This paper provides a comprehensive synthesis of information currently available on threatened species known to occur in New Zealand’s plantation forests. Based on an evaluation of the published literature, unpublished reports, national threatened species databases, and personal observations we have compiled records of 118 species classified by the Department of Conservation as threatened that occur in plantations. Of these species, 16 are classified as ‘Nationally Critical’, 17 ‘Nationally Endangered’ and 17 ‘Nationally Vulnerable’, while the majority are classified as either in ‘Gradual Decline’, ‘Sparse’ or ‘Range Restricted’. We highlight the direct and indirect benefits of plantations to various threatened taxa and draw attention to the missed conservation opportunities that are generated by a lack of understanding and the somewhat ‘puritanical’ views of New Zealand’s mainstream conservation paradigm. We also discuss some of the potential negative consequences of plantations such as their potential function as ‘population sinks’ and ‘ecological traps’. We conclude with a discussion of future research opportunities that aim to improve the conservation value of plantation forests.