Why biodiversity matters

This page explains what biodiversity is, why it's important and the current state of biodiversity in New Zealand.

What biodiversity is

Biodiversity is short for biological diversity. It describes the variety and diversity of all life on land, in fresh water and the sea. This includes ecosystems and the genes they contain.  It includes:

  • individual birds
  • plants
  • fish
  • insects
  • other species that are special to New Zealand  ̶  our indigenous biodiversity.

There are many examples, such as kiwi, tui, inanga (whitebait), weta, and ti kouka (cabbage tree).

Why biodiversity is important

Our biodiversity provides the life supporting systems that enable all organisms, including humans, to survive. Our wetlands purify water and help prevent flooding and drought. Indigenous forests provide carbon sinks and purify the air we breathe as well as providing recreation and amenity values. Forests provide products such as timber, fuel, food and medicines. Our farming, forestry and horticulture depend on the resources and services provided by biological systems.

Indigenous biodiversity is often found nowhere else in the world. It is important to New Zealand’s environment, culture, society and economy. For Māori, the connection with nature is one of whakapapa (kinship).

We recently consulted on a proposal to help protect native plants, birds and animals by directing councils to provide for biodiversity in their policy statements and plans under the Resource Management Act. Find out about the proposal

Biodiversity and climate change

Climate change is impacting on biodiversity. Biological changes are being observed globally. These include shifts in the range of some species, and earlier timing of leaf-unfolding, bird migration, and egg-laying in some species.

Other impacts are changes to marine and land ecosystem productivity and disruption of freshwater ecosystems due to warmer water and lower flows in rivers and streams. Biodiversity can help provide stability and resilience as we adapt to the fluctuations and disturbances brought about by climate change.

Current state of New Zealand’s biodiversity

Our use of our land combined with invasive pests and diseases have caused our indigenous ecosystems and species to be in a state of rapid decline.

According to publications such as our report series Our Land 2018 and Environment Aoteoroa 2019 we have around 4000 species threatened or at risk of becoming extinct.

This means we could lose more than 80 per cent of our reptiles, frogs, bats and birds. 59 of our bird species have disappeared since humans first arrived here. We continue to lose fundamental ecosystems and habitats like tussock grasslands, sand dunes, indigenous scrubland and indigenous forests.

For more information see the section Our native plants, animals, and ecosystems are under threat in the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report.


Find out more about biodiversity