Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Issue 7 , February 2012

News about Landcare Research science relevant to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

In this issue:


Happy New Year and welcome to the first edition of our MAF e-newsletter for 2012 in which we highlight some recent research that could be of interest to MAF staff.

It certainly covers a diverse range of the research we undertake.

Our new book, Old Problems, New Solutions (OPNS), brings together the different strands of our six-year OPNS programme that examined how water governance has unfolded through disciplinary lenses of law, social science and economics, providing perspectives on a range of different water challenges facing communities, industry, government agencies and the research community.

We outline the further extension of the S-Map programme, which we believe will be very helpful for land use planning, including irrigation. We also report on our recent research about the increase of ‘lifestyle blocks’ in New Zealand. This has received significant interest from local government and from the media.

We include several biosecurity-related articles including an interesting case study of the role that our subsidiary EcoGene has played in tracking down stoats on Kapiti Island. And, we’re delighted to report on new collaboration with Australian researchers to help tackle pests on both sides of the Tasman.

All the best for 2012; we look forward to being of assistance.

Phil Hart

Land & Water

Old Problems, New Solutions

Old problems, New Solutions coverThousands have lived without love, not one without water.
W. H. Auden

These words, by celebrated poet W. H. Auden, are as appropriate today as when they were written last century.

Water sustains New Zealanders. It underpins every facet of our economy, culture and society. However, now more than ever, we face increasingly complex conflicts over water allocation, pollution and development.

It’s on that note that Landcare Research is proud to present Old Problems – New Solutions: Integrative research supporting natural resource governance, a book bringing together insights and perspectives on water governance in the context of the complex environmental, economic, social and cultural issues that abound it.

The book represents one of the outputs from our six-year multi-disciplinary research programme, Old Problems, New Solutions. The research was designed to complement and support end-user activities in central and regional government , iwi and community organisations and businesses. We acknowledge the insights, information and advice of the many contributors, advisory panels, and end-user organisations who guided and informed this work.

Drawing from disciplines of law, social science and economics, each chapter offers a perspective on water governance and provides conversation starters to engage with issues of water governance and the contribution of research to address issues of sustainability.

While the Old Problems New Solutions project is now complete, further research on related natural resource governance, water management and wider sustainability topics that draws on and develops this work is underway at Landcare Research.

Further information:
Bob Frame

S-Map extends coverage

A screenshot of S-map.The S-Map team has completed remapping of the Wairarapa Plains at 1: 50 000 scale, from north of Masterton to the coast. The mapping was completed from July 2010 to June 2011, and is now freely available in S-Map Online.

The work was based on a small demonstration window of S-Map capability, funded under an Envirolink Tools project. Wellington Regional Council saw the value and provided substantial top-up funding to enable Landcare Research to extend the S-Map coverage over the remaining lowlands.

The results showed quite a different picture of the soil landscape to the old soil map. A much wider range of soil types was identified than had been previously mapped. In quite a few areas there is high soil variability, which S-Map has captured, but which was unable to be represented in previous mapping.

Although only just released, the current users include Wellington Regional Council and DairyNZ. The data are freely available, and experience in other regions shows some of the key users are likely to include farmers, farm advisors, fertiliser reps, irrigation designers, and research agencies.

S-Map will be used in the Wairarapa at many levels of land use decision-making. In the dairy industry it is currently being used to support the launch of the pond storage calculator for designing effluent disposal systems. The data will also be used in research funded by the Wairarapa Irrigation Trust, to evaluate the options for irrigation scheme development in the Wairarapa.

Further information:
Sam Carrick

Lifestyle blocks and the loss of New Zealand’s productive soils

We’ve experienced extensive media interest and general queries about our new research showing the huge increase in ‘lifestyle blocks’ across New Zealand and which raises wider questions over our attitude to the slow but ongoing loss of valuable, high quality and productive land.

Researchers Robbie Andrew and John Dymond say their work, soon to be published, shows there are now 175,000 lifestyle blocks, up from 100,000 just 13 years ago, and this means that 10% of the country’s high-class land is now occupied by these blocks of land.

Meanwhile, 29% of the 25,000 hectares of new urban areas developed between 1990 and 2008 occurred on high class land. In Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough a high proportion of urbanisation has occurred on high-class land (49% and 50% respectively).

High quality land is defined as land capable of being used intensively to produce a wide variety of crops, including arable crops.

Robbie Andrew and John Dymond say high quality land is a valuable, limited, non-renewable resource, and should therefore be protected for the use of future generations. High quality land and versatile soil, which is one of its core attributes, are strategic assets.

While they’ve traditionally been ignored and abused, soils are vital to the ongoing health and wealth of the country:

  • A tablespoon of soil holds more organisms than there are people on earth.
  • 25% of New Zealand’s GDP is derived from soil-dependent industries.
  • New Zealand’s ongoing wealth is derived from a thin 15-cm layer of topsoil.
  • Nature takes hundreds of years to make several centimetres of topsoil but due to unwise land use we can lose this much in less than a day.
  • New Zealand loses 200 million tonnes of soils to the ocean each year – this is a rate ten times faster than the rest of the world.

The research concludes that there are no effective, nationally consistent, preventive measures against the gradual whittling away of the same productive land by urbanisation and subdivision.

“There are significant benefits to rural subdivision, such as reinvigoration of rural communities, increasing rural school rolls, building resilience through diversifying production methods and the improved quality of life of those with lifestyle blocks.”

“However, our work raises some important questions; do lifestyle blocks constitute loss of productive land and are high quality lands adequately protected?”

The authors say that past research suggests that small landholders do not generally engage in high levels of production.

One factor that affects rural productivity is “reverse sensitivity” whereby the sensitivities of new rural residents can impinge on the production activities of neighbouring properties. These include sensitivities to the use of sprayed chemicals and odours from farming operations. This can affect productivity of agricultural and horticultural operations, and there have been cases where permission has been granted for further subdivision as a result of this lost productivity. That is, a farm’s productivity may decline because of reverse sensitivity, contributing to a later decision to subdivide that farm, so leading to further subdivision.

Reverse sensitivity is one reason why it’s impractical to reverse rural subdivision, the authors say. The other reason is the higher value of lifestyle properties, no longer reflecting the productive potential of the land, can preclude repurchase for productive purposes.

Robbie Andrew and John Dymond say New Zealanders need to give more thought to the value and protection of our high quality soils and productive land, particularly given ongoing worldwide issues around the supply of food.

As high-production land is taken out of production, alternative food supplies must be sought. Importation of food can increase New Zealand’s exposure to global price fluctuations and loss of control over methods of production. Meanwhile, production on lower quality land requires increased resource inputs and management, with increased costs and increased environmental pressures.

Further information:
John Dymond

Weed & Pest Management

Seeking public help to find paper wasps

Our scientists are seeking the public’s help to learn more about the spread of an unwanted insect pest.

There are two species of introduced paper wasps (Polistes genus) and they were last surveyed in the early 1990s. The first species to become established in New Zealand was the Australian paper wasp Polistes humilis, which has been present here since the 1880s but restricted to the North Island. The second species is the Asian paper wasp Polistes chinensis, which was first recorded in New Zealand in 1979.

Australian paper wasp <em>Polistes humilis<em>.
Asian paper wasp <em>Polistes chinensis</em>.

Australian paper wasp Polistes humilis

Asian paper wasp Polistes chinensis


Researcher Darren Ward wants to know if the wasps are continuing to spread through New Zealand, or whether they have reached their “limits”.

“Paper wasps are a threat to natural ecosystems because they prey on invertebrates, predominantly caterpillars, and also collect nectar in late summer/autumn. Densities of more than 200 nests and 6300 wasps per hectare have been recorded in the far north of the North Island.”
Specific information Dr Ward requires is:

  • Localities from around New Zealand (such as city/town, suburb, street, date, where found)
  • What species is it (Asian or Australian). If you are unsure, a photo is best, even a low resolution image is ok, as the species have very different colours/markings on their body.

Please email this information to Dr Ward on the following email.

Further information:
Darren Ward

Please note: be careful if catching wasps or destroying nests, wasps have a painful sting. Wasps are best caught at night when they are less active.

Australian collaboration for pest research

RabbitAndrea Byrom from the Wildlife Ecology and Management science team is this year’s recipient of the Graeme Caughley Travelling Fellowship, which is offered every second year, from the Australian Academy of Science.

Andrea plans to use the Fellowship from April to June 2012 to travel to Sydney to work with Professors Chris Dickman and Peter Banks at the University of Sydney; then she is off to Vancouver to work with long-time colleague Prof. Tony Sinclair at the University of British Columbia on aspects of invasive species management.

Graeme Caughley was an ecologist who was born in New Zealand but spent much of his working life in Australia as a chief research scientist with CSIRO Wildlife and Ecology, Canberra. His insights into the ecology of invasive species and native wildlife have inspired a generation of ecologists, particularly those living and working in the Southern Hemisphere.

Meanwhile, Andrea and her team will collaborate over the next five years with the Australian Invasive Animals Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) to develop tools and strategies to better manage pests and diseases that are present on both sides of the Tasman.

The CRCs are models that are used by the Australian Government to invest in key areas of research.

Key areas for our staff include: rabbits and RHD (Janine Duckworth, John Parkes, with collaborator Tanja Strieve from CSIRO in Canberra); decision support for rabbit control (Bruce Warburton, Aaron McGlinchy, with collaborator Glen Saunders from DPI in Orange NSW), and detection and modelling of animals at low densities (Dean Anderson, Andrea Byrom + postdoc, with collaborators Phill Cassey (University of Adelaide) and Peter Baxter (University of Queensland)).

Further information:
Andrea Byrom

Stoats on Kapiti Island and the role of EcoGene®

EcoGene staff; helping solve the stoat riddle.Kapiti Island is one of New Zealand’s most important conservation sites, protecting some of the world's rarest and most endangered birds. Free from introduced predators, the island is one of New Zealand's most important nature reserves – an area of uncontrolled natural forest regeneration and a centre for native bird recovery programmes. It is the only large island sanctuary for birds in the lower North Island and is particularly for the little spotted kiwi, which are extinct on the mainland, with Kapiti home to an estimated 1200 of the 1500 NZ total.

A recent stoat incursion is a significant threat to conservation as stoats have previously been undetected on Kapiti Island. The first stoat was initially detected in November 2010, finally caught in February 2011 and was found to be a male. However, in July and August 2011 two subsequent stoats were caught and these were both found to be pregnant females.

Both female stoats were sent to Dr Janine Duckworth who isolated three blastocysts (early stage offspring) from one and five blastocysts from the other female. These stoats, blastocysts and six additional stoats trapped from the mainland at Nga Manu adjacent to Kapiti Island were sent to Ecogene® for DNA analysis.

The Department of Conservation wanted to know whether they were dealing with the incursion of a single individual that has subsequently bred on the island or whether there has been more than one separate incursion. Therefore they needed to know the degree of relatedness between the two females and the male and whether paternity profiles could be obtained from the blastocysts to establish the likelihood that it could be the father.

DNA analysis of stomach contents was also undertaken for each of the stoats to establish diet. Canine teeth were sent to Matson’s Laboratory, Montana (USA), for age analysis.

Estimation of relatedness between the three stoats was obtained by pedigree relationship reconstruction and kin group assignments using molecular markers. This enabled an estimate of pairwise relatedness and a likelihood assessment that a pair of individuals shares a hypothesised pedigree relationship. The hypothesised pedigree relationships tested were full-siblings and parent–offspring.

Molecular identification of gastrointestinal contents was undertaken by amplification of a highly conserved region of the cytochrome-b gene common across a wide range of vertebrates. Resulting DNA sequences were then compared against sequences from GenBank, administered by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI).

The data supported the hypothesis that the three stoats captured on Kapiti Island were related. They had a higher probability of relatedness to each other than to any of the individuals from Nga Manu.

The hypothesised parent–offspring relationship was statistically supported for pairs Male –Female 1 and Female 1 – Female 2. This relationship was not supported between the Male and Female 2.

However, the hypothesis of the Male being the father of Female 2 cannot be totally rejected as there is only one piece of data that voids the relationship.

Full-sibling relationship was statistically supported for pairs Male – Female 1 and Male – Female 2. This relationship was not supported between Female 1 and Female 2; however, it is possible that such a result is a bias of the small sample size.

These results suggest Female 1 as the founder female with the Male and Female 2 as part of her offspring.

It was not possible to detect alleles of paternal origin from any of the blastocysts due to either maternal contamination or because the male was so closely related to the female that it was impossible to distinguish paternal alleles. If that was in fact due to the latter reason then it is consistent with that male impregnating both females.

Gut content analysis revealed presence of saddleback in the Male, and tui in Female 2.

Age analysis estimated the Male to be about one year old, which is consistent with a pregnant Female 1 arriving in 2009 and giving birth in the October of that year.

This research has greatly assisted DOC in their attempts to undertake predator control on the island.

Further information:
Frank Molinia

Landcare Research Link: A new series of short seminars and discussions for environmental policymakers

Our fourth seminar is coming up and while it’s being hosted by DOC it will be of interest to MAF staff.

Watch this space – monthly events covering Freshwater Values, Land Use and Pest Technologies coming up; contact Christine Harper if you need to know more or want to be included on the mailing list (sorry – only held in Wellington).

Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services – getting our act together with IPBES

Geoff Hicks of DOC will deliver an overview of New Zealand’s place at the table on the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services (IPBES) – the global response to insufficient knowledge on status and trend. Fiona Carswell, Science Team Leader for Ecosystems and Global Change at Landcare Research, will present New Zealand research that aligns ecosystems services and biodiversity. Discussion on how New Zealand can support the goals of IPBES, and the role(s) we will play, is sure to be lively!

Tuesday 28 February
12 noon to 1 p.m.
Department of Conservation
Manners Street, Wellington
Level 4 Conference Room

Further information:
Christine Harper 


Please note: The newsletters are to keep MAF 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.