Important Trends in Biodiversity in New Zealand
Important Trends in Biodiversity in New Zealand
In eco-ecology, a niche refers to the most appropriate match of an organisms to a given environmental context. It identifies how an eco-system or species interacts with its environment and how it changes those same variables and how it relates to the rest of the environment. This study of the interactions that eco-systems face with their external environment helps us understand how we can individually help shape and maintain a more eco-friendly world. Simply stated, eco-ecologists study how we can individually reduce our carbon footprint by improving our individual diets, appliances, transportation habits, and energy consumption. In other words, eco-ecologists attempt to individually improve the environment on a global scale.
In New Zealand, the Conservation Officer Service manages a national inventory of ecological niches, listing all existing and predicted biological diversity. They use this information to plan activities to enhance ecological biodiversity. The first priority in regards to the conservation of biological diversity in New Zealand has been the protection of threatened and extinct freshwater organisms. These include such diverse organisms as the common bull trout, the pan fish, the brown trout, the wang long, the black and white trout, the kaioree, the kiwi and many others. All of these organisms are threatened with extinction if nothing is done to protect them.
One important aspect of the protection of these organisms is identifying and describing the threats they face. In New Zealand, the key threats to freshwater biological diversity occur when invasive alien organisms, both marine and land-based, take up residence. Examples include Asian clams, starfish, gizzard shad, and stone snails. Other alien organisms have been known to make a substantial impact, particularly in terms of their destructive behavior, on different environments and landscapes. Examples include the velvet starfish, the common mole, the red ladybird, and the blue bird-of-prey.
When identifying threats to freshwater biological diversity, it is important to recognize two different kinds of ecosystems in which the diverse organisms exist. The first is an abiotic ecosystem, which consists of either one or a combination of two abiotic environments: land and water. The second is a biotic ecosystem, which includes species that coexist both in a land and in a water environment.
There are many different kinds of threats to New Zealand flora and fauna. One of the most severe threats faced by New Zealand flora and fauna is tourism, which results largely in the planting and harvesting of seed crops for human consumption and as plant material. One of the primary threats to New Zealand flora and fauna associated with tourism is the introduction of foreign species into the country, particularly from Asia and South America. Many of the introduced species are competitive with native species, resulting in a net decline in numbers of certain key species.
Another kind of predator that threatens New Zealand flora and fauna is the spread of wildfire. Wildfire has the potential to destroy whole communities of flora and fauna, and to completely wipe out a specific niche of an ecological niche. This happens when an ecological niche is occupied by many different forms of a predator and few animals that can cope with its invasions. For example, because there are so few large animal species that are able to cope with the metabolic demands of a sudden influx of prey, the birds of a specific niche will suffer great declines in numbers if the number of hunters increases.
Abiotic conditions provide the basis for a diversity of ecosystem services, such as regulating the acidity or alkalinity of the soil, controlling the distribution of nutrients, controlling population growth, and maintaining the efficiency of ecosystems. A major portion of these services, however, is provided through the activity of indigenous species. It is for this reason that many of the ecological niches in New Zealand have been selected to be especially sensitive to human habitat, food, and beverage consumption. If these habitats are removed, the ecology of the individual species will suffer.
There are plenty of examples of why it makes sense to focus conservation efforts on small organisms and their particular needs, rather than on a broad spectrum of predators and competitors. In a recently published paper, David Grisaffi helped identify New Zealand’s biological diversity through identifying and describing the key differences between the various environments of New Zealand. These differences helped him to identify 10 unique biological niche sites that play a key role in conserving New Zealand’s biodiversity.