Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Impact 1.2: Frameworks are in place to ensure the most threatened ecosystems, habitats and species are managed to reduce the risk of decline in native biodiversity

Wild pig on Mt Binser. Image - Phil Novis

Wild pig on Mt Binser. Image - Phil Novis

Key performance indicator 1.2a: Consents related to land use change under the Resource Management Act (RMA) areinformed by a scientifically-based set of criteria that take account of cumulative effects on habitat availability.

Landcare Research is a key source of specialist biodiversity information to support RMA decision processes. Staff may be called on as expert witnesses or be asked to provide evidence. Our research on restoring dryland biodiversity and our openaccess, comprehensive web pages on naturally uncommon ecosystems are often used to support RMA decisions.

2010/11 Baseline situation: Resource Management Act processes were informed by a variety of evidence, with no nationally-consistent biodiversity framework or context.

Progress 2011/12:

Progress 2012/13:

Progress 2013/14:

Cumulative effects of land-use intensification on highly-threatened dryland ecosystems in inland eastern South Island were used by the Environment Court and High Court in four hearings considering resource consents for major land-use changes. District plans, which guide resource consents, increased protection for indigenous vegetation for lower elevations in highly-threatened dryland ecosystems. An out-of-court agreement for a QEII conservation covenant for an important area of dryland biodiversity in the Mackenzie Basin was influenced by our technical advice to the Environment Court
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Landowners, business and public groups reached agreement that 100,000 ha of the Upper Waitaki Basin required protection. Court decisions prevented development of the upper Hurunui / Lake Sumner margins and a significant area of North Island frost flat, both areas being naturally uncommon ecosystems. Two district councils have improved processes for implementing their indigenous vegetation clearance rules
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Biodiversity advice in land development proposals

The eastern drylands are some of the most heavily modified and least protected ecosystems in New Zealand. Biodiversity in these habitats faces continuing pressure. We provided advice in the case of a large dairy development proposed in the Mackenzie Basin and including the Ohau Downs outwash plain and moraine. This area is the last remaining sequence of this critically endangered ecosystem in the south of the Upper Waitaki Basin and hence has significant ecological value. Our technical advice in Environment Court mediation was instrumental in an out-of-court settlement agreeing to a QEII conservation covenant for this area as a condition of consent to further develop adjacent land of lower ecological value. Our evidence was formative in determining the extent of the covenant and in setting out management and ecological monitoring protocols that have been incorporated into the consent conditions and the QEII Covenant management plan. The settlement represents a significantly improved ecological outcome compared with the original development proposal.

We were also asked to provide expert advice on the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s decision to allow land at Hawea Flat to be cleared of ecologically-significant native vegetation. Our affidavits for the Environment Court expressed the view that the council’s decision to allow the land clearance contravened its own rules about the protection of important biodiversity. The council reversed its earlier decision to allow the land clearance. The Court’s final decision upheld our affidavits but allowed the landowner to continue developing land that had been disturbed as most of the native vegetation had largely been destroyed. Although the native vegetation in question was destroyed, the Queensland Lakes and Central Otago district councils have now improved processes for implementing their indigenous vegetation clearance rules and are undertaking a review to clarify the rules.

Key performance indicator 1.2b:Management decisions by DOC, MPI and regional councils, aimed at reducing threats to species and habitats, are based on robust risk models that reflect best available knowledge about the efficacy, cost andacceptability of management strategies and tools.

This Impact focuses on developing cost-effective, goal-focused, best-practice management strategies and providing the evidence base to support decision-making by these agencies.

2010/11 Baseline situation: Management decisions largely ad hoc with inconsistent application of robust biodiversity value and risk modelling.

Progress 2011/12:

Progress 2012/13:

Progress 2013/14

Our framework, which links species extinction rates to changes in both spatial distribution and population size, helps sanctuaries and DOC to compare likely outcomes from different management actions. Decision frameworks are in use to support threatened species recovery, ecosystems protection, and regional council pest control. DOC and HBRC have clear evidence of how pest control on private land benefits biodiversity
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Updated threat listings for native biota enable DOC to reallocate resources for managing the most critically threatened species. DOC is using our masting model to predict vertebrate pest irruptions to more cost-effectively manage these events. DOC’s Battle-for-the Birds campaign to mitigate the impacts of a looming mega mast year is predicated on our masting model.
DOC and 14 councils used our risk model to rank their top weeds. DOC and the NZ Army have evidence that biocontrol of heather benefits indigenous biodiversity compared with herbicide control. Eco-sanctuary managers have quantitative data on the most cost-effective combinations of predator trapping and fencing.
    DOC is saving $260k annually in a skink recovery programme through new management strategies (see: Stakeholder partnerships for National Outcomes).


Informing national policy to protect wetlands

A central component of national water reforms is the National Objectives Framework (NOF), a process to guide regional councils in setting freshwater objectives in regional plans. We have been working with DOC on developing a NOF for wetlands that will help ensure wetlands are managed wisely for generations to come. Wetlands support significant biodiversity and provide highly valuable ecosystem services. It is imperative that effective management and protection is embedded into national and regional policy plans.

We used biotic and abiotic data from several databases and DOC wetland surveys to identify the relationships between indicators of ecosystem health (e.g. wetland condition index, native plant abundance) and proposed NOF physical attributes (e.g. nitrogen, phosphorus trends and thresholds). Five soil nutrient and two other physical variables consistently reflected wetland condition across the three main wetland types – bog, fen and swamp – indicating potential for developing these attributes for monitoring and managing wetlands. These will be further refined and developed for MfE in 2014/15.

This work is part of the Managing Biodiversity Portfolio, and is supported by MBIE Core funding and MfE.

Biodiversity benefits of pest control on private land

Much of New Zealand’s native biodiversity exists on privately-owned land used for primary production. In a recently-initiated project, Landcare Research has been collaborating with DOC and Hawke’s Bay Regional Council to investigate the effect widespread predator control across farmland might have on biodiversity. The latest surveys point to clear benefits – the predator-control area had fewer cats, stoats, ferrets and hedgehogs; but native invertebrates (e.g. weta) were around 50% more abundant. Native lizards, previously undetectable, appeared in over 30% of tracking tunnels. By comparison, the area without pest control showed no reduction in predator numbers, native invertebrates had not increased, and no lizards were detected. Work is ongoing but the results provide clear evidence with which to engage the farming sector in pest control for biodiversity gains.

The research is part of the Managing Weeds, Pests and Diseases and the Supporting Trade portfolios. It was supported by DOC and HBRC.

Pest fencing or pest trapping

More than 60 wildlife sanctuaries managed by DOC and community groups can be found around New Zealand. One of the biggest challenges they all face is how to make the most effective use of limited funding to reduce pests – should they eradicate pests inside fences or supress their numbers by trapping without the use of a fence? In partnership with DOC, we examined the effectiveness of three management options – mammal exclusion fences, cheaper semi-permeable (‘leaky’) fences and trapping.

Using typical baseline costs and data on predator control effectiveness from DOC management programmes, we extrapolated cost-effectiveness over a 50-year period. We calculated that an expensive exclusion fence, designed to keep out all mammalian pests, is the cheapest and most cost effective option for areas smaller than only about 1 ha; a lower-cost, semi-permeable fence, known to ‘leak’ some pests, is the most cost-effective option for 1–219 ha; and trapping (based on 0.2 traps per hectare and a 1500-m buffer area to reduce predator reinvasion) is the best option for areas above 219 ha. However, if trap maintenance costs could be reduced from $300 to $100 per trap per year (e.g. using long-life lures), trapping became the most cost effective method for areas greater than about 15 ha. Using baseline costs, a sanctuary manager with an annual budget of $200,000 could protect 132 ha with an exclusion fence, 272 ha with a leaky fence, and 807 ha with trapping.

The work supports the current thinking that cheaper leaky fences should be considered over exclusion fences for small- to medium-sized protected areas, especially if the goal is broad biodiversity improvements. For indigenous species that are highly sensitive to predators on the mainland, however, only zero predators inside exclusion fences will ever provide adequate protection.
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The research is part of the Managing Weeds, Pests and Diseases Portfolio, and is supported by MBIE Core funding and DOC.

Deer- and goat-compacted soils retard forest growth

Deer and goats affect New Zealand’s forests and their regeneration by consuming the seedlings of palatable trees and also through their effects on the physical and biological properties of the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi in the soil colonise plant roots assisting them in acquiring the nutrients from the soil. Trampling by deer and goats reduces the soil’s organic content and the level of mycorrhizal fungi. As a consequence seedlings growing in soils compacted by deer are less vigorous than those growing in soils where deer and goats have long been excluded. At the forest level, the understorey growth rate will be slowed, which could affect how rapidly forests recovery following disturbance (e.g. from the recent Cyclone Ita) and the rate at which forests sequester carbon.

This information is being used by DOC to defend ongoing control of goats and preventing the spread of deer into areas from which they are currently absent.

This research is part of the Measuring Biodiversity Change Portfolio, and is supported by MBIE core funding and DOC.

Cost-effective weta monitoring

Translocations of endangered giant weta species to suitable habitats on predator-free offshore islands or mainland wildlife sanctuaries are vital to the long-term survival of our most iconic native invertebrates. However, because weta are nocturnal and secretive, it can be extremely hard to assess the success of translocation programmes, particularly in the initial years when weta are at low densities. Ground or arboreal surveys are labour intensive and have inherent difficulties; hence we worked with DOC and several mainland sanctuaries to refi ne the use of tracking tunnels for weta surveys. Their value was demonstrated in surveys of Mercury Islands tusked weta (Motuweta isolata). Several years ago, captive-reared weta progeny from the only remaining, at-risk population on Ahu (Middle Island) were released on six nearby, mammalfree islands. Regular tracking tunnel surveys reveal that populations have now established on four of the islands, with one population expanding outwards from the initial release site by 100–150 m per year. These are excellent findings given that the original population on Ahu now seems to be extinct.
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This research is part of the Managing Biodiversity Portfolio, and is supported by MBIE Core funding and DOC.