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Options to protect New Zealand’s native plants

Sunday 7 November 2004

Exciting research options to protect New Zealand’s native plants and birds

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology is in the process of investing $32 million per annum in research designed to protect and enhance New Zealand’s unique natural ecosystems.

Natural ecosystems includes the preservation and protection of endangered species of birds, natural flora, fauna, landforms, rivers and marine environments as well as native insects, fish and other creatures. It also includes proposals to deal with pests such as possums and weeds which are taking over from native species. The process to determine investment in natural ecosystems occurs every two years and organisations who conduct research have the opportunity to apply to the Foundation for funding.

The Manager of the Investment Operations Group, Dr John Smart says that the proposals it’s considering this year include innovative ways of decreasing possum numbers using biological means. It is also considering proposals to control other pests such as rats, stoats and ferrets which, like the possum, are predators of most of the endangered native bird species.

John Smart says another area of research looking at how to manage New Zealand’s ‘dryland ecology’, such as the vast areas of tussock country in the South Island which are now to have stock removed from them and to be managed by the Department of Conservation is among the proposals being considered..

Marine biosecurity, the protection of New Zealand’s important marine environment, is also high on the list of funding priorities. There are concerns about the impact that certain marine species such as the ‘crown of thorns’, seaweeds or algaes could have on our fisheries. New Zealand is vulnerable to such nasties arriving here either in the ballast water of ships or by being attached to the hull of a ship.

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Researchers would also like to learn more about the lifecycle of eels and that special kiwi delicacy – whitebait – with the objective of ensuring their long term management and protection.

John Smart says research into ‘natural ecosystems’ strikes at the very heart of what New Zealand is perceived to be – namely a pristine natural environment with few of the major pollution problems faced in other parts of the world. But he says with a number of native birds, plants and fish on the endangered list there is no reason to be complacent and research is critical.

He says that much of the research in this area also has significant benefits for farmers – especially with research into possum, weed and insect control.

Initial decisions on the funding round will be announced in December with the final ones made public in May.

ENDS


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