Post captalism conservation
The quality of water in New Zealand’s streams and rivers is much higher where headwaters and riparian zones are dominated by native trees and shrubs
‘Natural capital’ – the fundamental basis of human welfare and a key component of intergenerational equity – is at the heart of most global perspectives on post–capitalist economies. Many observers of the current financial crisis believe the disconnect between real and market values reflects the loss of alignment between financial markets and the biotic and abiotic components of natural capital on which they are ultimately based.
A good example of how these disconnects have arisen is the incremental loss of biodiversity (a key component of natural capital) that has characterised economic development. The earth’s landscape has been transformed from a natural matrix with islands of human activity, to an often heavily modified matrix now dominated by human activity. Nature is constrained within highly insular parcels of remaining natural habitat – artificial ‘islands’ of biodiversity. The success of mainland islands in halting extinction of iconic species has distracted attention from the increased risk to the ongoing supply of essential goods and services (such as clean water) provided by biodiversity, as well as its intrinsic aesthetic and intellectual value.
Fragmentation of forest ecosystems along streams and rivers increases the vulnerability of each residual patch to the effects of short–term land–use planning, invasive species, and (probably) the impending effects of climate change. Loss of individual forest patches further fragments the forest ecosystem, incrementally reducing resilience of the residual habitat islands and increasing the risk to water quality.
Analysis of change in extent of original vegetation cover confirms that agricultural intensification over the past 10 years has led to the highest rate of native vegetation loss since European colonisation.
The drive to increase the profitability of land use (usually through intensification) has largely become disconnected from the impact this has on the intrinsic and functional values of biodiversity. The most critical gap is the lack of a robust measurement system to assess and predict changes. Without it, New Zealand will continue to make policy and planning decisions that do not take full account of the influence biodiversity has on the economic, social and cultural welfare of its citizens. And, it will be difficult for New Zealand to report cohesively against its international treaty obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity and against OECD State of the Environment indicators.
Biodiversity Assessment & Valuation Tools
Several years ago, Landcare Research recognised the need for biodiversity assessment tools and used internal investment to research a range of measurement systems aligned to challenges in biodiversity management and decision making. This year, collaborative work with a number of international groups produced a framework for developing relatively simple metrics for evaluating biodiversity performance. Future work with DOC and regional councils will look at applying this framework in New Zealand. We are also contributing to a successful proposal, led by DOC and MED, to develop a framework for biodiversity offsetting, which will lead to more transparent trade–offs between the impacts of landuse decisions and the mitigation measures required to offset those impacts.
Managing Climate Change
Global climate change will undoubtedly have significant impacts on the environment and create new conundrums for conservation and restoration programmes. Offsetting greenhouse gas emissions through native forest regeneration (as in our EBEX21® programme) provides new economic opportunities for managing marginal hill–country, protecting erosion–prone catchments and rehabilitating forest remnants in productive and urban landscapes.
Outcome Based Investment Reviews
This year marked the four–yearly review of our three large OBI programmes. The reviews were thorough and constructive and will lead to some substantial changes in the way these programmes are integrated. One challenge is how biodiversity management should integrate compositional outcomes (focused on assemblages, occupancy and representation) with functional outcomes (focused on processes, resilience and change). Māori are significant partners with the goal of enabling iwi to effectively manage the forests they own, eventually restoring taonga values and sustainably harvesting native species.
Local Eradication of Mammal Pests
In a project that marks a step–change in pest management, our scientists achieved near–eradication of possum populations across two landscape–scale locations at less cost than traditional broad–acre control programmes, which would have left much higher residual possum densities. This work was undertaken in collaboration with AHB and had a focus on the cost–effectiveness of Tb vector control. However, the implications of the work for what could be potentially achieved in conservation settings are very exciting. Rodents and mustelid control is particularly problematic, and the same approach might achieve similarly spectacular improvements in the efficiency and effectiveness of control programmes.
Molecular Breakthrough for Understanding Pest Populations
Catch–mark–release–recapture is a widely used technique for estimating population densities, understanding population demography and tracking movements. However, some animals can be difficult to catch. A significant piece of research by our Ecological Genetics Laboratory in collaboration with pest ecology teams has been development of molecular mark– recapture analysis for mammal pests. Instead of capturing live animals, hair samples caught on sticky tubes in the field were used to estimate pest density and to track movements of individual pests. This identifi cation capability is now available through EcoGene™.