Welcome to the aquarium.
The sign of a healthy ecosystem is an abundance of top predators. The Kermadecs is thronging with sharks.
There's safety in numbers, and in caves at the Kermadecs.
We have five parakeet species that we can call our own. One lives in the subantarctic, one on the Chathams, and three on the mainland—red, yellow and orange. If you’ve visited a sanctuary, you might have heard their chattering and glimpsed a flash of lime green in the understorey. You might have even got close enough to tell what you were looking at—to see the red mask over their eyes, or a yellow stripe rising over their heads like a mohawk. You probably didn’t see an orange-fronted parakeet—and you’d be able to tell by the pumpkin-coloured band above their beak—because orange-fronts are in a terrific amount of trouble. We’re not very good at protecting them, and it’s not for want of trying. The Department of Conservation has already attempted the interventions that have worked for other species. DOC kills more than 95 per cent of the predators that roam the forest valleys in Canterbury that the orange-fronts call home. A sanctuary breeds the birds in safety, then they’re released on offshore islands, where, free from threat, the birds fail to thrive. Today, the orange-fronted parakeet is widely described as “stuffed”. It looks likely that the destruction of the parakeets’ habitat is driving their decline, and that’s difficult to fix. Whatever the orange-fronted parakeets require has been lost, and we can’t recreate it for them because we don’t know what it was. Perhaps the layer of the forest that they prefer to browse has been stripped by deer and goats. Perhaps their preferred food is no longer available, and, added to all the other environmental changes they have faced in the last century, they can’t cope. DOC lists about 2700 threatened and at-risk species, in varying degrees of trouble. Some of those are clawing back ground—record breeding seasons of takahē, kākāpō, kiwi and whio being among the success stories. But some native wildlife does not have a good prognosis, and this issue’s story on orange-fronted parakeets will be the first in a series examining the fauna most at risk of being lost without dramatic intervention. Keep an eye on nzgeo.com/curtain-call. These species are diverse, but have one thing in common—our one-size-fits-all backup strategy doesn’t work for them. We rely on being able to rescue endangered wildlife by sequestering breeding pairs on predator-free islands. But the species in our curtain call all have habitat requirements that those islands can’t provide. Some of these species might surprise you. Some of them seem numerous now, but their population is in freefall. Some of them you have probably never seen in the wild, but you may have heard their calls, or eaten them for lunch. We look to the Predator Free 2050 moonshoot as the universal saviour of our threatened species, but evidence shows that the orange-fronted parakeet’s problems don’t all have four legs and a stomach. It would be concerning if support for a wide range of conservation services—research, habitat restoration, ecosystem preservation—is withdrawn in favour of predator eradication. And in the case of the orange-fronts, a predator-free mainland won’t make a difference. Either we fund the research and intensive care the parakeet requires, or witness this long goodbye, where conservation staff have just enough resources to try, but not quite enough to make a difference.
Twice the kākāriki karaka has returned from the dead. Orange-fronted parakeets were declared extinct in 1919 and again in 1965, but each time, the birds were concealed deep in the beech-forested valleys of Nelson and Canterbury. Now, the bird is approaching its third extinction, and this time, rangers have already scoured the valleys for hidden strongholds. This time, there isn’t a secret population waiting in the wings.
Every summer, a plague of wasps gathers, ruining picnics, harassing trampers and disrupting ecosystems. Wasps outcompete bees for food, costing New Zealand about $130 million each year in loss of honey and pasture crops. Where wasps abound, biodiversity suffers: butterflies disappear, songbirds stop breeding and invertebrate communities are looted. But there’s hope on the horizon. Scientists are developing weapons, both biological and genetic, in a bid to cure the pestilence, once and for all.
There are some species in New Zealand so neglected, so obscure, so fiendishly difficult to protect that they will likely topple over the edge into oblivion in the near future. Over the next few months we will feature—one by one—the species soon to join the ranks of the disappeared. They may not be the ones you expect...
Fearsome and fast, sharks occupy the top spot in the food chain, but are also the most vulnerable to ecosystem changes. Public attitudes to these apex predators is changing, and scientists are beginning to understand their biology, behaviour and contribution to the environment—but will we be quick enough to save them?
Turning over the soil to prepare it for planting is a fixture of the agricultural calendar, but it’s also devastating for earthworms. Conventional tillage uses a plough to invert the soil and bury weeds and leftover crops, but it also exposes earthworms to predators and harsh weather, compacts the soil, and destroys organic matter rather than leaving it to decompose. Afterwards, earthworm numbers take up to ten years to recover. By contrast, in land planted without tilling—usually by drilling seeds into the soil—earthworm numbers are 137 per cent higher, according to research published in Global Change Biology, which looked at 215 field studies from 40 countries, from as far back as 1950. Organic matter in the soil was also up 196 per cent. No-tillage is becoming more popular around the world, because it conserves soil structure and reduces erosion, although more herbicides are generally used to kill weeds. Anecic worms, which take food from the surface but dive deep between soil layers and set up permanent burrows, were particularly affected by conventional tillage, as were epigeic worms, which live in surface mulch. While earthworms found in cultivated land in New Zealand are non-native, these guests now have a critical ecosystem role, recycling organic matter, making nutrients more available to plants, and improving soil structure.
Beneficial gut bacteria may be killed by global warming, according to a study conducted on British lizards by researchers at the University of Exeter and University of Toulouse—to the reptiles’ great detriment. Scientists put viviparous lizards (Zootoca vivipara) in enclosures that were two and three degrees warmer than the average temperature to simulate predicted climate change. Lizards made ideal subjects as, being cold-blooded, they are unable to internally regulate their temperature. While some types of bacteria died over time and some flourished, the overall biodiversity of the warmer lizards’ gut bacteria plummeted 34 per cent compared with the control group. Afterward, the lizards were kept in a common garden for a year, where more of the ‘warmed’ lizards died. Study author Elvire Bestion says while discussion about climate-driven biodiversity loss tends to focus on charismatic animals, there’s a risk to forgetting about what’s on the inside.
An unlikely crew is given the assignment of catching birds in butterfly nets on a weather-beaten subantarctic island.
Get up close and personal with red snapper, a common predators at Astrolabe Reef.
Fish life abounds in the coraline shallows.
Life takes on a new hue 30 metres down a coral reef wall.
Thanks, you're good to go!
Thanks, you're good to go!
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