Environment Aotearoa 2015 is a report about New Zealand's biodiversity and environment. It was released by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and Statistics NZ (StatsNZ) in October 2015.
They sourced robust data from a variety of organisations, including regional councils, Crown Research Institutes, MetService, government agencies, and of course DOC. The report follows international best practice for environmental reporting.
DOC provided large amounts of data from across the country for many areas, and our data was invaluable for the report's biodiversity component. Additionally, several of our staff were consulted for their expert opinion on which indicators should be used and what should be included in the report. The data used in the report needed to meet rigorous quality criteria overseen by StatsNZ.
As our monitoring programme progresses we will be able to tell an increasingly rich story about biodiversity across public land and waters, and how effective conservation interventions are.
Some regional councils are implementing monitoring programmes using frameworks and standards closely aligned with DOC's, which will complete the national picture – making national reports like this more accurate and giving DOC access to even better information to base conservation management decisions on.
How DOC contributed to the report
Areas where DOC provided data and/or expertise, and what they were used for:
- Status of widespread indigenous trees:
- Distribution of 13 most common native trees across New Zealand – monitoring rates of 'establishment' and 'mortality' (death) of these species provides important insights into the state of the environment eg whether large weather events (like drought) or climate change are having an impact on these rates.
- Particular trees (eg those that are palatable to browsers like possums and goats) are used as 'indicator species' to assess changes in tree populations. This helps detect large-scale, long-term changes and problems in forest ecosystems.
- Pest impacts on indigenous trees – monitoring native tree species that share traits, eg species that are preferred by possums, goats or other browsing animals may become locally extinct and nationally rarer than less palatable species. Examining where more of these 'shared trait' species have died than established (and vice versa) tells us where browsing animals are changing the composition of forests, which will have significant long-term impact on those ecosystems and how they function.
- Bird species on public conservation land – knowing which species are where is an important indicator of the condition of our ecosystems. 'Occupancy' of native and exotic species in forest and non-forest sites informs:
- Biodiversity status – based on the balance between the number of species of native and exotic birds in different forests.
- Which native species are threatened – of the 14 threatened native bird species detected at these sites, 6 species were only found at 1 site each, out of more than 100 sites that DOC monitors.
Maui dolphins (adult and juvenile)
- Marine mammals at risk of extinction – sightings of marine mammals, such as Hector's and Maui dolphin, help inform where protection measures are needed. Monitoring populations, eg New Zealand sea lion, and investigating causes of mortality helps to prioritise which threats to mitigate to safeguard these species.
- Indigenous seabirds – monitoring whether seabird populations are increasing or decreasing and investigating the factors are driving this, informs how to best manage their conservation
- Fisheries bycatch – bycatch data of protected species in commercial fisheries is used to assess the impact on these species and prioritise conservation and management activities.
Land pests (animals and plants)
- Distribution of rats, stoats, possums, goats, tahr, deer, wilding pines. This builds on data we provided for the 2007 MfE State of the Environment report, so helps indicate change over time.
Changes in conservation status of indigenous species
- DOC's change in conservation status reports are used by the New Zealand Threat Classification System to help quantify the risk to all indigenous species (plants, animals and fungi) of becoming extinct.
- Ecosystems that cover less than 0.5% of New Zealand's land area have been/are being mapped by DOC. This data helps assess their status in relation to their original extent.
- Current distribution data shows that, relative to their historic extent, only 6% of wetlands are in nationally protected areas. Wetlands are biodiversity hotspots and provide important ecosystem services such as filtering water.
Active sand dune extent
- Current distribution data has highlighted a reduction in extent of 35% since 1995. As well as their habitat and species biodiversity values, active sand dunes (ones that are moved by the wind) provide a valuable ecosystem service – they are an important coastal defence against flooding and climate change.
- New Zealand's carbon stocks – investigating how much is sequestered ('locked up') in plants and trees, and if the rate of sequestration increasing. Our forests provide an important ecosystem service by offsetting New Zealand's carbon dioxide emissions.