New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2023) 47(1): 3515

The rise and rise of predator control: a panacea, or a distraction from conservation goals?

Review Article
John R. Leathwick 1*
Andrea E. Byrom 2
  1. Heathcote Valley, Christchurch 8022
  2. Independent Environmental Consultant and Te Pūnaha Matatini, Canterbury, Aotearoa/New Zealand
*  Corresponding author

We review the recent rise to prominence in Aotearoa New Zealand of predation-focused conservation management, critically assessing the likelihood that this will deliver outcomes consistent with national biodiversity goals. Using a review of literature describing the impacts and control of three groups of introduced mammals (wild ungulates, brushtail possums, and predators), we identify shifts in management emphasis over a century of conservation decision-making in Aotearoa. Predators are now a major focus and wild ungulates are left largely uncontrolled, despite increasing populations and evidence for their negative impacts on a wide range of indigenous species and ecosystems. This imbalance in management effort, which appears to be influenced increasingly by socio-political pressures, is much less likely to deliver outcomes consistent with Aotearoa’s biodiversity goals than a systematic approach that addresses a full range of biodiversity threats. Overall, we interpret these shortcomings as reflecting long recognised issues with the governance and leadership of Aotearoa’s biodiversity system. Changes are required to provide adequate, stable funding, improve clarity around goals, leadership, responsibilities and accountabilities, strengthen planning and prioritisation of management actions, and coordinate management among various conservation actors. We also argue for (1) a stronger role for ecological sciences through independent research aimed at strengthening the evidence base for management actions, and (2) explicit inclusion of science expertise in conservation policy development and management decision making. While recent extensive, landscape-scale predator control has caught the imagination of many and has undoubtedly delivered some gains for a small subset of indigenous species, it also risks creating a false sense of achievement that diverts attention away from other serious gaps in progress towards achieving national biodiversity goals. We make 12 recommendations to address these shortcomings.