By - Wayne Linklater 10/11/2017

This was the theme of today’s panel-public discussion in Old Government Buildings at Victoria University. It was chaired by Kathryn Ryan – host of Radio New Zealand’s Nine-to-noon.

Panelists were asked to provide an opening statement that answered the above questions (text box) and described their position.

Here is mine.

In 2100 people will be an important and unavoidable parts of all ecosystems.

We will be routinely genetically modifying old biodiversity, breeding new species and designing and constructing new ecosystems. We will be doing that on this planet and starting to do it on moons and other planets too.

Farmers, doctors and conservationists, to name a few, will be doing this to manage a global environment that is different and changing. The earth’s ecosystems and their biodiversity will be changed at all scales – from their genes to biomes. Nothing original and pure will remain to be restored.

Before you feel like this is a dystopian vision of environmental apocalypse, I need to tell you that I don’t see it that way – at least not about wildlife biodiversity.

Our biodiversity and its management will be much improved by 2100.

Peopled landscapes

The greatest improvements in NZ’s biodiversity will have occurred in the peopled landscapes that are two-thirds of our land area. Today’s urban and rural landscapes will seem like biodiversity deserts to my great-grandchildren. Instead, they will grow up in urban and rural landscapes that are managed to reconcile biodiversity with other human values. By achieving this, NZ’s native biodiversity will have ceased to decline and will be in recovery. Our peopled landscapes will no longer be regarded as impacted but as highly prised novel ecosystems for biodiversity.

Reserve landscapes

There will also be reserved landscapes where the ecosystems include mostly original biodiversity. But they will be ecosystems functioning very differently under new environmental regimes, beginning with the changes in climate. They will include native wildlife that have been necessarily modified to adapt them to new challenges and also exotic species fulfilling important functions. Thus, reserved landscapes will also be novel ecosystems with novel communities of biodiversity.

Globalising Aotearoa’s biodiversity

By 2100 we will also have exported our native biodiversity to the rest of the world. Tuatara on islands off warming Antarctica? Kokako in Madagascar? Giant weta in Chile? Kiwi in New Guinea? This will make sure that their persistence no longer depends only on us (risk reduction), and they will have been welcomed in many other nations where they contribute to other new, more resilient ecosystems. There will be a culture supporting global partnerships for biodiversity instead of the culture of biodiversity parochialism, nationalism and nativism that limits us today.

Novel ecosystems everywhere

All ecosystems will be novel because changes will be forced on us that are not reversible. They will also be novel because we will make them that way to cope in the changed planet. But it should also be this way because the novel ecosystems and their biodiversity will be designed pragmatically to serve the diversity of human interests and values better.

Biodiversity from political and social diversity

In the future, biodiversity conservation will depend much less on the fraught idealism of a minority elite who have focused only on wildlife preservation and restoration.

Other people, not conservationists, will most decide the future of biodiversity. That has always been true and it will continue to be true in our western democracy. To make greater progress, therefore, conservationists must build an agenda that serves a greater number and diversity of people and that makes biodiversity a greater part of peoples’ lives.

Any plans for the future that do not recognise people and their growing part in ecosystem structure and functioning are fatally flawed.

Any plans for the future that do not grow the diversity of perspectives and values that contribute to biodiversity conservation are politically indefensible.

Biodiversity reconciliation accommodates people, it is inevitable, and it is better.

Zealandia is a reconciliation project

I want to leave you with this thought: Zealandia is described as a restoration project. Actually it is a reconciliation project. Zealandia is adding more nature to a human-dominated environment. A novel ecosystem with a mixed community of exotic and native species is being managed intensively using advanced technologies to satisfy human values and current environmental fashions. It is a project to reconcile nature with people. That doesn’t make it less good than a pure, original ecosystem with only native species. Instead, it makes it better for today’s world where people dominate.

0 Responses to “Biodiversity conservation in 2100”

  • I am a possum harvester and have been involved in these industries for 50 years and am not against Predator Free 2050. My view is that we need to start again, set up an organisation to start from looking at the true research, look at how we are doing things now, look at the true costs, look at who advising people, who is doing the work, who is making big money and then decide what needs doing. I know our main problem is the rat and mustulids and these should be dealt with first and the possum as an asset and the harvester as assets as well. I believe that with the correct bait station and poison we can control rats on a long term basis and indirectly control mustulids. To this end I have with others been designing a bait station that is only excess able to rats and mice and have ideas on bait and poison for this station. Our idea is these bait station would only need checking every 3 years and if set out by possum harvester could be checked and replaced by the harvester when the possum numbers become high enough that it is worth them harvesting again. I am also encouraging harvester on how to set their traps to kill rats and mustulids while they are taking time off. Also having been involved with research for many years I know of research done that I can not find today and when asking people they have not seen it either much of that research is very relevant to where we want to go today one example would be the work done on building tunnel traps for mustulids that sprayed from an aerosol a small dose of the Distemper Virus which I gather mustulids are very susceptible to from what I remembers there was 2 problems the virus was to strong and kill themustulidsbefore it could spread it widely and the virus died when the weather was to cold but we have advanced scientifically over the last 20 years that these problem may now be able to be solved.

  • A Murder of Rooks

    From Southland to Northland, Regional Councils around the country are once again putting out the call for sightings of rooks, Corvis frugilegus, in their efforts to exterminate them.

    The rook is a minor agricultural pest, on a par with the yellowhammer, so how did this bird become a target for extermination rather than control? How did this bird become an unwanted organism under the Biosecurity Act?

    The rook is a black, hoarse–voiced bird about the size of a magpie which was brought to New Zealand from Britain between 1862 and 1874 to help control agricultural pests. Unlike many other European birds introduced at the same time, rooks spread very slowly at first. Even as late as 1970, they were largely confined to parts of the Hawke’s Bay, Manawatu, southern Wairarapa and Canterbury.

    In the 1971 rooks were declared an agricultural pest in the Hawke’s Bay, largely because of the damage done to emerging crops. Something like 35,000 thousand were shot, probably about half the population. Control methods were affective as by the mid 1980s estimates of rook damage went to almost nothing, as indicated by complaints received by the DSIR and Pest Destruction Boards. Several authors noted that control measures resulted in the spread of rooks to other parts of the country. The recent campaign has further extended their dispersal from Northland to Southland.

    Regional Council web sites make various claims about the destructive behavior of rooks, some of which belong to the realms of fantasy. The claims range from pecking out the eyes of sheep to the widespread destruction of crops and pasture, in spite of also admitting that 75% of the rooks diet is insects. A pest destruction officer from the Bay of Plenty sent me an image of pasture uprooted and destroyed by rooks. From my experience, it was clearly pasture destroyed by grass grub which some bird, probably starlings, or maybe rooks, had uplifted, the very birds imported into the country to control grass grub. Regional Councils also claim that the rook impacts on native bird populations, a claim which is frankly ludicrous. The more realistic claim that rooks are a problem with emerging crops has been largely nullified as farmers now use seed coatings which repels birds.

    So, what is going on?

    The process by which an organism is declared unwanted and subject to eradication in New Zealand is obscure to say the least. It certainly appears to want to baffle the lay person.

    The Biosecurity Act guides pest management in New Zealand. Its main purposes are to prevent new pests from entering the country and to manage pests that are already established here. Regional councils are primarily responsible for the latter. The Act enables Regional Councils to develop a pest management approach that is specific to the region’s needs and communities’ expectations. One of requirements of the Act is that pest control must be cost effective, so the yellowhammer, mustelids and rats, are too numerous and widespread to eradicate but the rook is apparently a viable target because of its limited numbers. However, with the plans to eradicate all pests under Predator Free 2050, this may change.

    The public are allowed to make submissions on regional pest management plans but although many people have made submissions in support of the rook over the last twenty or so years, the submissions have been ignored. Farmers, such as Olrigg Station, wanting to protect the rook because of their appetite for grass grub, have been threatened with prosecution and worse.

    Where is the science in all of this? The experts on birds, the NZ Ornithological Society, are silent on the matter, possibly because it values its scientific objectivity too much to get involved in “politics”. However, without their expertise, the field is left to the charlatans. Horizon Regional Council, who seem to be the main protagonists in this campaign against the rooks, has involved Landcare Research but largely to determine whether extermination is a viable option and to determine the environmental fate and humaneness of DRC-1339, the toxin most commonly used for control of rooks at rookeries. DRC-1339 is an organochlorine, among the worst pesticides around.

    The project to exterminate the rook has cost a considerable amount of money, a windfall to the pest destruction industry whose relationship with regional councils needs a closer examination. In perusing the voluminous amount of data on pest strategies on line, I have managed to glean that over a period of twenty years 2002-2022 at a cost of $60,000 a year the Wellington Regional Council proposes to eradicate the rook. Extrapolating this over the other regional councils, the cost has been astronomical, many millions.

    Now in looking at all this, the logic somehow escapes me. Is this the plan of some fanatic with a hatred of big black birds? Is it part of a fiendish plot to eventually eliminate all introduced birds? Is it an experiment to see if it is possible to exterminate a pest species? I think the public has a right to know.

    New Zealand’s avifauna, native and introduced, is far from numerous. European birds have now been here for about 150 years. Following the Darwinian scenario of the finches on the Galapagos Islands, a very small number of birds, carrying just a portion of the species genetic potential, will over time change and radiate to fill the ecological niches which are on offer. Isolated from their parent birds, European introduced birds, will in time become truly our own and probably quite different from their European counterparts, unlike Australian introduced birds whose genetics may be boosted by birds continuing to come across the Tasman.

  • Extinction of individual species is just change, neither good nor bad in itself. Similarly for the establishment of new exotics in N.Z. There is absolutely no way to return N.Z. to a pristine native only environment – that is pure fantasy (and would require the ultimate exit of Homo sapiens!) What we actually should be concerned about is the collapse of entire ecosystems. Rats and possums have been in N.Z. for so very long now that it is hard to see the imminent collapse of ecosystems due to their presence. Surely, we have reached some sort of equilibrium? So, one has to ask if all the money being poured into a “predator free N.Z.” is actually avoiding disaster, or is it just another bureaucratic “money-go-round”?

  • Aha, the old balance of nature equilibrium chestnut.

    Now why didn’t the poor old Moa come to a nice equilibrium with those pesky mammalian invaders?

  • @Maggy

    You are talking extinction of individual taxa, I am talking collapse of entire ecosystems.

  • You are talking extinction of individual taxa,

    No Stephen,

    I was merely trying to put to bed the concept of reaching equilibrium when new organisms are introduced into complex ecosystems.
    I’m pragmatic about having to live with novel ecosystems in human-dominated landscapes.
    But I see no reason why we should let possums, deer, goat, etc munch their way through all our native forests.

  • “I see no reason why we should let possums, deer, goat, etc munch their way through all our native forests”

    That may be a misleadingly rhetorical way of expressing the situation. My argument is that previous efforts at controlling these “munchers” are sufficient to prevent another major ecological disaster (which really already happened in the first few decades after European settlement, due largely to widespread forest clearance and the first wave of predators, etc). Do we really need to create a massive bureaucracy with exaggerated goals and sucking significantly from the pool of public funding?

  • Do we really need to create a massive bureaucracy with exaggerated goals and sucking significantly from the pool of public funding?

    No, we don’t… and I haven’t argued so.

    My original point concerned your statement about “surely we have reached some sort of equilibrium”.
    Nothing in my 40+ years of working/studying NZ ecosystems suggests to me that some sort of equilibrium has been reached with respect to the weeds and animal pests that have entered NZ’s shores over the last 750 years.
    I raise this point because I am old enough to remember the times when “equilibrium being reached” has been offered up as an argument in favour of retaining pest mammals on offshore islands or in National Parks.

  • Fair enough, though when I say “some sort of equilibrium”, perhaps you are thinking of some particular notion of equilibrium that I don’t mean?

  • I thought we were discussing matters within the framework of ecosystem dynamics.

    I ‘m happy to work with concepts/ definitions of equilibrium as taken by…
    J.H. Connell’s disequilibrium theory
    Pertubation theory
    Non-equilibrium ecology & resilience theory.

    What did you have in mind?