Issue 5, May 2012
In this issue:
I ’d like to update you on two exciting changes at Landcare Research: a new face in our Senior Leadership Team and the creation of science portfolios.
Dr Libby Harrison joined us at the beginning of May as General Manager Development. In this role she has responsibility for our relationships with customers (in New Zealand and overseas) and our partners in technology transfer and commercialisation. This includes our communications efforts. She has a strong personal focus on relationships and quality and will be very pleased to hear from you about improvements we can make across all of our interactions with you. Libby was formerly in the Environmental Protection Authority, having managed its establishment while on secondment in MfE. She has a strong regulatory background from EPA, ERMA and before those the OECD in Paris and the global agrichemical industry.
Also in our Senior Leadership Team, Dr Rob Allen continues as Acting GM Science & Policy, replacing Dave Choquenot until February 2013. He will be the principal senior contact for policy agencies.
Our new science portfolio structure has been designed to improve the way we integrate our science with you, the people who use it.
Back in 2010 the CRI Taskforce identified the niche of our organisation to be based around four National Outcomes:
- Improve measurement, management and protection of New Zealand's terrestrial ecosystems and biodiversity, including in the conservation estate;
- Achieve the sustainable use of land resources and their ecosystem services across catchments and sectors;
- Improve measurement and mitigation of greenhouse gases from the terrestrial biosphere;
- Increase the ability of New Zealand industries and organisations to develop within environmental limits and meet market and community requirements.
Together with many of you, we have put a lot of thought into the science priorities for delivering those outcomes and we have clustered those into ten science portfolios:
- Defining Land Biota;
- Measuring Biodiversity Change;
- Managing Biodiversity;
- Understanding Ecosystem Services and Limits;
- Charactering Land Resources;
- Realising Land’s Potential;
- Managing Invasive Weeds, Pests and Diseases;
- Measuring Greenhouse Gas and Carbon Storage;
- Enhancing Policy Development;
- Supporting Trade.
These portfolios are not strictly aligned with outcomes because our science is cross-cutting and integrative. They are the “public face” of our science and act as hubs for integrating our investment with your and that of our collaborators in other science organisations, so that we make the most cost-effective progress together towards the national outcomes.
We hope these portfolios align well with your own programmes of work and that this structure will ensure you get more ‘bang’ for your investment ‘buck’. If, for example you invest with us in research aimed at improving the effective use of land while minimising environmental impacts, that would align with our Realising Land’s Potential portfolio. As far as possible we will support that investment with our own Core funding so it contributes to a bigger portfolio of work aligned with your goals.
Portfolios are not business as usual – several are innovative and forward-thinking and all have significant science challenges. They will be dynamic, evolving as we anticipate and respond to your changing needs and what is happening in the wider environment.
So where are we at with this development? Our portfolio leaders are currently developing plans that many of you will have had input into. We will be convening an Outcomes Scoping Group to help us ensure that the science priorities for our four national Outcomes continue to match national, sector and stakeholder needs and future opportunities. This group will take on a similar role to that of the former OBI advisory groups. We will be approaching stakeholders to nominate representatives shortly.
In addition to this group we have already established a Science Advisory Panel for our Board and met with them in February when they reviewed our science portfolios soon after the portfolios were established. The need for panels to advise CRI Boards on science quality came from the CRI Taskforce. Our panel is chaired by Dr Stephen Goldson and comprises leading scientists from New Zealand, Australia and the UK.
The establishment of our science portfolios is creating a real buzz here at Landcare Research. We are determined to find new ways to more effectively and efficiently meet your research needs. Resources will continue to be constrained or even diminished, in stark contrast to the significance of the challenges we face together.
As always, I would welcome your feedback.
The $2.2m facility, which underpins the company’s partnerships in the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre (NZAGGRC) and the Global Research Alliance, opened recently by the Minister for Primary Industries, Hon. David Carter.
A combination of a new building extension and remodelled existing workshop and office space, the facility houses new controlled environment cabinets that replace units that are more than 30 years old. It also has isolated areas for the measurement, and sorting, drying and grinding of plant and soil material.
New field instruments for long-term measurement of greenhouse gas exchange and water use have also been installed. This advanced field technology is important in comparing research results here with the findings of our global network counterparts, particularly in Europe and Australia.
Importantly, the new development means that sophisticated equipment, such as our isotope laser technology, is housed in an appropriate facility.
This advanced equipment and a modern, functional workspace will help us continue to attract and retain staff of the highest international calibre.
Chief Scientist David Whitehead says research undertaken in the new facility will provide credible support to government agencies and will help inform strategic decision making over land and water use.
“Increasingly, Landcare Research is being recognised for its leadership and capability in greenhouse gas research. This facility will help us remain at the forefront of this important research.”
Landcare Research is partnering with milk company Synlait to carry out research that will provide a better understanding of greenhouse gas release and other environmental implications of converting traditional dryland pasture to intensive dairy farming. The work will also provide tools to help farmers reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Sophisticated equipment for monitoring carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, irrigation efficiency and soil carbon movement has been set up on two adjacent sites – one unirrigated dryland and the other irrigated and newly converted to dairying – near Hororata in Canterbury.
By comparing emissions at the two sites researchers hope to provide answers to six key questions about greenhouse gas emissions, and water and nutrient use efficiency:
- What is the impact of dairy conversions on our net greenhouse gas emissions?
- What is the effect on soil carbon storage?
- What are the environmental drivers of emissions and changes in soil carbon storage and how do these vary seasonally?
- Are water use efficiency and nitrogen use efficiency decreased with irrigation and the application of fertiliser?
- Can modified irrigation scheduling improve water efficiency?
- What is the impact of irrigation and fertiliser application on nitrate leaching?
Research leader, Dr John Hunt says the five-year project is important because of the rapid growth in dairy conversions.
“The conversions will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and there are the concerns about increased water use. Nitrous oxide emissions are also linked to nitrate leaching losses and changes in water quality, and the retention of soil carbon is critical for maintaining pasture productivity,” says John.
“New Zealand needs to find innovative ways of to reduce our emissions from agriculture that allow continued economic growth and prosperity.
“Working with an innovative company like Synlait, we hope our findings will lead to improved management practices for reducing emissions, improving soil carbon storage, and better water and fertiliser efficiency.”
As well as installing sophisticated equipment for measuring the exchange of greenhouse gases at both sites, Landcare Research is also installing complex meteorological and ground monitoring systems for measuring all the environmental variables that control emissions.
“We can not only look at the release of greenhouse gasses from half-hour to half-hour, but we can also look at daily, weekly or yearly emissions, and compare the effects of land-use change.”
The field project has been made possible by the development of a new $2.2m greenhouse gas research laboratory at Landcare Research’s Lincoln site, which was recently opened by the Minister for Primary Industries, Hon. David Carter.
New Zealand’s system for considering and introducing new organisms, such as biocontrol agents, is highly regarded internationally - many believe it to be the most comprehensive system in the world.
Over the past 14 years, 22 species of biocontrol agents, targeting both plant and insect pests, have been approved for release in New Zealand, at a time when the introduction of biocontrol agents has slowed in many other countries.
In an article in the latest edition of ‘What’s New in Biological Control of Weeds?’ Landcare Research and the Environmental Protection Authority staff have looked at why the New Zealand system is so successful.
A biocontrol agent, the heather beetle, is outperforming herbicide in the control of heather (Calluna vulgaris) on the Central Plateau. At the largest outbreak in the Waiouru Military Training Area, 99% of heather in an 80-ha area has been killed so far. Research is now focusing on how to boost the establishment of heather beetle populations.
More information on this research is available in an article in the latest edition of ‘What’s New in Biological Control of Weeds?’
Green urban design elements that could be incorporated into the redevelopment of Christchurch’s Central City were showcased in an award-winning Landcare Research exhibit at this year’s Ellerslie International Flower Show.
“Residents’ desire for a greener central city was the strongest theme to emerge from the Christchurch City Council’s consultation process for its Central City Plan,” says Landcare Research landscape ecologist and exhibit designer,” Dr Colin Meurk. “The goal of our exhibit was to showcase what’s possible.”
The exhibit, which featured more than 150 native plants, struck a chord with the judges, winning the Supreme Award for Horticultural Excellence.
The ‘pocket park’ design showcased a green roof and wall, more sensitive stormwater treatment, green tram tracks and paths, indigenous bush, biodiverse lawn, and green rubble.
The exhibit provoked emotional responded from many visitors. “Many people are passionate about the natural environment and the way their city will be rebuilt, and some of the ideas we presented really resonated with them.
“We have now had discussion with the Council, consultants and central city business people about how these ideas can be adopted in the central city.”
Adaptability and resilience – two good Kiwi traits – will be important as New Zealand responds to a changing world in the next 100 years.
Researcher Dr Daniel Rutledge discussed future scenarios for New Zealand at one of Landcare Research’s recent Policy Link Seminars in Wellington. His presentation touched on climate change, world population growth, green growth, peak oil, food security, biodiversity decline, and the value of ecosystem services.
Based on a range of research including a recent SLMACC report, the development of future long-term scenarios for New Zealand and personal investigation and curiosity, Daniel’s presentation outlined a series of global trends to 2100 and discussed the broad implications for New Zealand.
Overall the prognosis is mixed. Over the short-term, recent trends are expected to continue. Further increases in global population coupled with rising affluence (and expectations) in many developing countries will drive increased needs for energy, food, water and other raw materials. The increased demand and resulting impacts of increased consumption (e.g., greenhouse gases, land-use change, water abstraction, etc.) will increase pressure on our global life support systems, including biodiversity loss, ecosystem service degradation, and changes to key systems including hydrology and climate. In some cases, especially climate, we risk “lock in” of future trajectories that could severely reduce our ability to alter course in the future and avoid undesirable outcomes.
In the medium term (e.g., 20-40 years) we will enter what Shell International recently termed a “zone of extraordinary opportunity or extraordinary misery." The decisions and actions we undertake and the investments we make over the next 10-20 years will largely shape the world out to 2050-2060.
Finally in the long-term, we enter a zone of “business-un-knowable” in which the compounded uncertainties lead to an increasingly broad range of outcomes, both good and bad. We can view that uncertainty as a liability or an asset. It is a liability because New Zealand is largely a future taker whose fortunes depend largely on those of the broader global community.
On the other hand, the uncertainty can be viewed as an asset because it means nothing is set in stone. New Zealand’s success in the long-term will depend on our ability to recognise and avoid irreversible outcomes and maintain adaptability and resilience. To paraphrase Shell, if we maintain options, we will foster opportunity. If do not maintain options, we will likely foster misery.
Knowledge and information on the use of NZ’s greatest asset.
The National Land Resource Centre (NLRC) will be launched in July. In this (3 min.15sec.) video clip – the first in a series of updates – Director Dr Alison Collins explains the three objectives for the centre and introduces the initial team behind it.
Shingle beaches are one of the most threatened of New Zealand’s ‘naturally rare ecosystems’. In a recent video, Landcare Research Programme Leader Dr Susan Wiser explained the work being undertaken to improve understanding of this special habitat.
Freshwater invertebrates (insects, crustaceans, snails, worms, etc.) are a useful measure of the state of our streams but the identification and interpretation of the range of invertebrates found in any stream can be tricky.
To help, researcher Stephen Moore has developed a new on-line Freshwater Invertebrates Identification and Information Resource:
The tool has been designed primarily to help community groups with identification work, and councils working with people on their local streams. The project was funded by the Ministry for the Environment’s new Community Environment Fund, along with the Auckland Council and Taranaki Regional Council.
Mr Moore says the resource covers over 200 genera of freshwater invertebrates from all parts of the country, with high quality photographs of each group.
“Simple identification keys, combined with close-up images of diagnostic features, will help inexperienced - and experienced - biologists to correctly identify their stream specimens and to find out about the indicator value of each group,” he says.
All the common New Zealand aquatic invertebrate groups and many of the rare groups are featured on the web resource.
With an improved understanding of the stream invertebrate fauna and quality of the stream, community groups can make better decisions about whether their stream should be protected in its current high quality state, whether it could be a good candidate for riparian planting or whether the council pollution hotline should be called in to investigate.
The biodiversity objectives of ecological restoration projects are always likely to be compromised if too much attention is given to non-biodiversity goals, a Landcare Research study has shown.
A team led by Dr Norman Mason considered a hypothetical afforestation effort in a highly modified New Zealand catchment to look at where trade-offs would occur between biodiversity improvements and three other environmental objectives: reduced nitrogen leaching, greenhouse gas emissions and erosion. Simulations on artificial data were then used to look at where large trade-offs are likely to occur.
“The results showed that where the primary aim of restoration is to enhance biodiversity, biodiversity gain must be the dominant criterion in allocation of restoration effort,” says Norman.
“There were significant trade-offs between biodiversity gain and the three other environmental objectives, particularly erosion reduction.”
Norman says the findings are significant because while ecological restoration is crucial for increasing biodiversity in highly modified landscapes, non-biodiversity objectives are increasingly being used to set restoration priorities.
“Our results show that the danger for biodiversity in this is that a focus on non-biodiversity objectives in designing restoration programmes may result in drastically lower rates of biodiversity gain per unit of restoration effort.
“This might be offset if the increase in restoration effort due to funding from environmental markets is large enough to counter this decrease in biodiversity gain per unit effort. However, if this is not the case, biodiversity gain will be severely compromised if non-biodiversity objectives are given equal footing to biodiversity gain in choosing areas for restoration.
“Trade-offs between biodiversity and ecosystem services sit within the dichotomy of deep versus shallow environmental ethics (e.g. Naess, 2003). A shallow (or anthropocentric) ethic values natural ecosystems for their material benefits to human society, while a deep ethic emphasises the intrinsic (or existential) values of natural ecosystems.
Many arguments for non-biodiversity values provided by indigenous ecosystems, such as the enhancement and protection of ecosystem services, emphasise the benefit of ecosystems for humanity, often placing a dollar value on these services (e.g. Costanza et al., 1997). By contrast, arguments for biodiversity conservation and enhancement (at least in western cultures, Takacs, 1996) have been primarily concerned with the existential value of biodiversity (especially where this relates to protection of endangered species and ecosystems).
“Although a large research effort has attempted to link biodiversity to enhanced ecosystem functioning, the evidence remains somewhat equivocal (Ghilarov, 2000; Hooper et al., 2005; Diaz et al., 2007), and is certainly not strong enough to provide the main argument for biodiversity conservation and enhancement. Thus, depending heavily on non-biodiversity benefits to promote biodiversity gain objectives is an example of using shallow ecological arguments to advance deep ecological objectives.”
Do you have an interest in New Zealand’s pre-human vegetation? Landcare Research is proposing to create a data repository for New Zealand pre-human vegetation data.
We’re looking for comments and suggestions from potential users of such a resource. Please take a moment to participate in this brief, nine-question online survey.
Landcare Research Link: Series of short seminars and discussions for environmental policymakers
Our seventh seminar is coming up and while it’s being hosted by DOC it will be of interest to Ministry staff.
If you’re Wellington-based and have an interest in pest management, head along to the seventh of our Landcare Research Link lunchtime seminars on Tuesday (29 May): Progress and challenges in pest animal management: is ‘pest free south island’ an impossible dream?
Landcare Research Portfolio Manager Dr Andrea Byrom will talk about the implications of this ambitious vision for current and future biodiversity research and policy.
Andrea will outline a realistic vision for 2050: to have spheres of broad-scale, accurately targeted pest control around core sites designed to keep threats at very low levels. Preventing pest outbreaks and enabling migration of native biota between core areas, this strategy would also reduce chance local extinctions.
Tuesday 29 May
Department of Conservation
Level 4 Conference Room
Manners Street, Wellington
BRING YOUR LUNCH
Please note: The newsletters are to keep MfE informed about current research projects. The news items may include interim results that have not been peer reviewed. They should not be disseminated or quoted without first contacting the person mentioned at the end of each item.