Nature services: a new green tool box
A new decision support tool for selecting plants for restoration and landscaping in New Zealand is now up and running.
NZ Nature Services is a one-stop shop for choosing native plants that are regionally, environmentally, and purpose appropriate. Plant selections are initially prioritised by ‘use’: shelter belts (including under irrigators), stormwater mitigation, cultural uses, dune stabilisation, riparian protection, or landscaping (including native lawns, noble trees and roof gardens). Plants are then tailored to a location by clicking on a zoom-able map. This defines the Ecological Region, hence the naturally occurring native plants of the area.
NZ Nature Services recognises that soil conditions underpin successful plant selection. Species are matched to soils using three methods. First, the ‘clicked’ location identifies the likely Soil Order (in rural areas). Second, each use has a typical cross-section diagram identifying zones with similar soil drainage, frequency of flooding or disturbance, level of exposure or shelter, and overriding functional needs. For example, a stormwater swale has an ‘edge’ zone abutting a road (requiring short plants needing little edge trimming) and a wet or dry swale ‘base’ through which water periodically flows (requiring dense filtering plants). Third, each plant is given a Wet (poorly drained), Mesic, or Dry ranking. This allows the user to cross-check the generated plant list with site drainage. Soil Order is disabled for stormwater ‘uses’ and most urban landscaping, recognising the prevalence of Anthropic Soils in these situations. NZ Nature Services also has weblinks to technical guides and brochures produced by councils, for example, Plant Me Instead pamphlets and guides to riparian restoration, shelter belt planting and stormwater treatment devices. Bringing this information together highlights the variety of ecological (nature) services that native plants can provide. Species and uses are linked to New Zealand databases and on-the-ground experience in which Landcare Research and other publicly-funded agencies have invested over many decades. For example, information on Māori customary plant uses for food, fibre, construction, and medicines comes from the fascinating Ngā Tipu Whakaroanga database.
NZ Nature Services aims to increase the values and success of planting efforts, and expand the conventional range of native plants used in restoration and landscaping. Over 1000 native species are included, compared with 350 (mainly woody) species in its predecessor, the Green Toolbox. Combined with NatureWatch NZ (for species recording, identification and performance monitoring) and Nature Space (support for restoration groups), the information generated by NZ Nature Services will refine people’s familiarity with biodiversity, place-based plant choices, planting techniques, and maintenance.
NZ Nature Services is prototype software supported by Landcare Research core funding, Selwyn and Nelson district councils, and Canterbury, Horizons, and Wellington regional councils. Feedback has been fantastic, assisting the development of the product. More funding will help refine the website and its information, e.g. tailoring sections to specific users. Priorities include:
- Populating case studies, identifying demonstration sites nationwide that people can safely visit
- Enhancing information on each Factsheet with more web resources, hotlinks and FAQs
- Enhancing the diagrams of each use (ecosystem service).