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Restoring Natural Ecosystems In Cities

Media Statement
2 May 2005

Restoring natural ecosystems in cities

A research project to determine the best way to restore natural ecosystems in city areas will receive $1.6M over four years from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Biodiversity loss has been greatest in or near New Zealand's cities and settlements where development has often resulted in total landscape transformations. For example, in Hamilton city only 0.1% of the original natural vegetation remains. The extent and magnitude of this loss in terms of species, ecosystems and heritage value has only been recognised in recent years.

The research will develop a model to reverse the loss of native plants and wildlife in New Zealand's urban areas, which will inform the many restoration groups around the country of the best methods to use.

Led by the University of Waikato, the research group will use the 60-hectare Waiwhakareke Natural Heritage Park in Hamilton city as a case study. The park is a modified peat lake with grazed pasture that is being restored by Hamilton City Council.

Research Leader Bruce Clarkson says the park provides a unique opportunity. "The community vision is not merely to re-vegetate it, but to reconstruct functioning ecosystems of plant and animals not seen in the area for at least 100 years.

"Our role is not to conduct the reconstruction, but to underpin the restoration effort with excellent science."

The research will assist regeneration of the heritage park but will also enable a restoration model to be developed that can be applied nationwide.

Such a model will help transform traditional city approaches to managing parks and gardens throughout New Zealand to one more closely aligned to ecosystem management and sustainable development.

The first stage of restoring the Waiwhakareke heritage park is to determine the flora and fauna that used to live there. This will be done by consultation with local Màori and others with historical knowledge of the area and ecological methods such as analysing soil deposits.

The second stage will be determining the best restoration methods to use. For example, when attempting to re-establish a Kauri forest, is it best to plant directly into pasture or to go through an interim stage of establishing a nursery crop?

The abundance of native insects is an important indicator of the success of the restoration process and the research team will develop genetic techniques to monitor the rate at which insect diversity returns.

If pests aren't controlled, successful restoration is unlikely. A crucial aspect of the research will be determining the best methods of eradicating pest weeds and animals in restored urban areas. One example of planned research is a 24-hour video surveillance of nests which will identify for the first time the main predators of young birds in urban New Zealand.

Finally, the research programme will work out how to motivate a broader segment of society to get involved in restoration work.

Overall, the project will develop knowledge that will underpin a groundswell of interest in community-based restoration. "This will help reverse the tide of indigenous biodiversity loss across the wider landscape," says Dr Clarkson.


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