Hand held rock wren

Image: Sabine Bernert | ©


Our native species and ecosystems are likely to experience a whole range of impacts as a result of climate change, but some ecosystems and species will be more vulnerable.

Predicting how our species will respond to climate change and which are most vulnerable is difficult, because there is a lot of uncertainty about their ability to tolerate climate change.

This is partly because of our existing variable climate, but also because many of our remaining species and ecosystems only occupy a small part of their original range, and this has little relationship to climate. There is also uncertainty around how human induced activities (such as animal pests or change in land use) will change as a result of climate change.

View a review of climate change impacts on native species and ecosystems in New Zealand (PDF, 725K) by Matt McGlone and Susan Walker.

Effect on vulnerable ecosystems

Braided river. Photo: Sharleen Briden.
Braided rivers will be vulnerable to climate change

All of our native species and ecosystems will eventually be affected by climate change, either directly and indirectly, but some will be more vulnerable, including:

Alpine ecosystems are refuges for many of our bird, lizard and invertebrate species, and contain a great diversity of plant species. Increased animal pest pressure (eg hedgehogs, rats, wasps) is expected in both the short and long term. In the long term alpine zones will also experience increased woody growth as tree lines and scrub moves upslope.

Freshwater ecosystems will also be particularly vulnerable because they are already subject to high levels of land use pressure (eg dams and irrigation). Native freshwater plants and animals will be impacted by climate change directly (eg increased flood frequency, drought), and indirectly (eg increased irrigation and pests and weeds).

Coastal ecosystems (includes estuaries, coastlines, and offshore island habitats) where rising sea levels will ‘squeeze’ our coastal native ecosystems against developed land. Storm surge and increased sedimentation as a result of increasing flood frequency will also affect these ecosystems.

Effect on vulnerable native species

Climate change could also be a problem for many of our vulnerable native species. These species lack the ability to adapt to the impacts of climate changing at the rate expected and may need us to specifically intervene. This includes species which:

  • are highly specialised eg tuatara
  • have reduced genetic variation because of a limited number of breeding pairs eg little spotted kiwi, takahē, black robin
  • have limited distribution eg. rock wren, black-eyed gecko, Archey’s frog, or
  • are reliant on the sea’s food resources eg rock hopper penguins, wandering albatross.

Tuatara - a highly specialised vulnerable native species. Photo: Sabine Bernet.
Tuatara - a highly specialised native species vulnerable to climate change

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