New Zealand's Biodiversity

Biodiversity was first introduced as a resource management concept at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, referring in broad terms to ‘the variety of life’. The Convention on Biological Diversity 1992 defines biodiversity as ‘the variability among living organisms from all sources, inter alia, terrestrial, marine and aquatic ecosystems and the ecological complexes of which they are part; this includes diversity within species, between species and ecosystems’. 4872 Such a view is consistent with mātauranga Māori, as in a Māori worldview because there is only one set of primal parents, all things are related and we exist in a kinship-based-relationship with Te Taiao – the Earth, Universe and everything within it.

New Zealand’s biodiversity makes a significant contribution to overall global diversity with an estimated 80,000 endemic species. 5041 New Zealand is an internationally recognised world ‘hotspot’ for biodiversity. 5040 This high endemism is largely the result of our long isolation from other land masses and diverse geography and climate, allowing unique flora and fauna to develop. 

However, biodiversity decline is rampant as pests and habitat loss push increasing number of taxa toward extinction. Among our plants, 289 are threatened and 749 are at risk meaning they will be extinct in the next century. This is nearly 40 percent of the total number of New Zealand's indigenous plant species. Indigenous freshwater fish have suffered even greater declines, with 74 percent currently at risk or threatened. Of the 417 bird species still present in New Zealand (56 are already extinct), over 40 percent are now threatened or at risk. Our indigenous lizards are also in serious risk of decline with approximately 85 percent threatened or at risk. Our two endemic marine mammals (New Zealand Sealion and Maui's Dolphin) are both threatened. Combined with the substantial reduction in the extent and health of indigenous ecosystems, these threatened species statistics indicate the parlous state of our remaining indigenous biodiversity. 4873

New Zealand relies on the maintenance of healthy ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are values that human derive from the state and abundance of natural systems and their component parts. 4875 They are highly interdependent. 4876 Ecosystem services are defined by the United Nations Environment Programme as:  “the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, that maintain the conditions for life on Earth”. 4877  

In New Zealand, our biodiversity provides the cultural, regulating, provisioning, and supporting ecosystem services which underpin our prosperity. The specific diverse ecosystems in New Zealand form the basis for our value as a tourism destination, and our national icon in the kiwi. Our fertile soils form the basis of our valuable primary industries, and our diverse forest environments provide the scene for the recreational staple of tramping.

Aside from our anthropocentric interests in biodiversity, its importance lies in its intrinsic value – that is the value inherent to its existence. The concept of intrinsic value recognises that each form of life is respected for its uniqueness.

Section 3 of the RMA describes intrinsic value as: “those aspects of ecosystems and their constituent parts which have value in their own right, including– a) Their biological and genetic diversity; and b) The essential characteristics that determine an ecosystem’s integrity, form, functioning, and resilience”.

A number of studies have been undertaken to place to value New Zealand’s ecosystem services. The most recent study in 2013, concluded that the “total economic value” of all land-based ecosystem services in New Zealand is with $57 billion per annum. 4878 The system valued:

Economic benefits – including the provision of ecosystem services (such as fertile soils, pollution control, clean water and flood control) as well as fisheries and tourism.

Social benefits – such as the importance of biodiversity to New Zealanders as part of our national identity and for its contribution to recreational values.

Cultural benefits – the importance of biodiversity for Māori including customary uses.

There are three key components to New Zealand’s ecosystems: land, freshwater and marine. This section of the website focuses on terrestrial biodiversity. Freshwater, and marine biodiversity are addressed in other sections of the website.

  1. Article 2, Convention on Biological Diversity

  2. Brown, M. (2015) Vanishing Nature: facing New Zealand's biodiversity crisis at 3. 

  3. Marie Brown (2015) Vanishing Nature: facing New Zealand’s Biodiversity Crisis at 2. 

  4. Marie Brown (2016) Pathways to Prosperity: Safeguarding biodiversity in Development at 20. 

  5. Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005 

  6. Patterson MG, Cole AO 2013. “Total economic value” of New Zealand’s land-based ecosystems and their services. In Dymond JR ed. Ecosystem services in New Zealand – conditions and trends. Manaaki Whenua Press, Lincoln, New Zealand.

  7. Myers N, Mittermeier R, Mittermeier C, da Fonseca G and Kent J, 2000. Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature, 403.


Last updated at 6:10PM on April 10, 2018