Image: Anne Thornley ©


Find out about New Zealand's unique biodiversity, its importance and how to protect it.
Biodiversity is life, biodiversity is our life
Ko te koiora kanorau, he tauoranga, ko te koiora kanorau to tātou tauoranga

Our rich biodiversity at risk

New Zealand’s biodiversity and its contribution to all New Zealanders’ prosperity and well-being has extraordinary value. But whilst we are one of the richest and most diverse areas of biodiversity on Earth we are also one of the most threatened.

DOC is safeguarding New Zealand’s biodiversity by conserving our unique natural and historic heritage for all to enjoy now and in the future.

What is biodiversity?

The word ‘biodiversity’ is abbreviated from ‘biological diversity’. This means the number and variety of all biological life - plants, animals, fungi and microorganisms - the genes they contain and the ecosystems on land or in water where they live.

Biodiversity is the variety of life on Earth.

Elements of biodiversity

Ecological diversity: The variety of ecosystem types such as forests, wetlands, lakes and oceans and the communities living in them. These communities interact with each other as well as the rest of their environment.

Species diversity: The variety of species within an particular geographic area, such as the insects, plants, birds, fish and bacteria living in a wetland.

Genetic diversity: The varied genetic make-up of individuals of a single species.

New Zealand is estimated to have more than 80,000 native animals, plants and fungi. Only about 30,000 have been described, named and classified. New Zealand’s biodiversity is rich in variety and high in numbers, holding significant national and international importance; it is a land of great beauty, inspiration and remarkable life on Earth.

Our unique biodiversity 

Around 80 million years ago New Zealand drifted away from the landmass that included the modern continents of Antarctica and Australia.

For the plants and animals this separation from other land and from humans meant that New Zealand became an isolated world where species evolved on their own.

No other islands of similar size remained isolated for so long and New Zealand was one of the last places on Earth to be settled by humans. This remarkable isolation meant plants and animals evolved into distinctive species, found nowhere else in the world. New Zealand became a land of birds, a land of ancient forest.

Diagram showing reduction in forest land since human arrival in New Zealand and corresponding loss of species.
Diagram showing reduction in forest land since human arrival in New Zealand and corresponding loss of species.

The impact of humans

Since the arrival of humans in New Zealand around 1000 years ago the rate of decline of species and habitats has accelerated enormously.

Polynesian settlers brought the first terrestrial mammals - dogs and rats. The only terrestrial mammals in New Zealand until then were three species of bat.

European whalers and sealers and subsequent settlers brought more rats as well as cats, dogs, stoats, ferrets, weasels, rabbits, pigs, the Australian brush-tailed possum and other mammalian pests.

What we've lost

  • 14 species of moa
  • the world’s largest ever eagle
  • the laughing owl
  • the New Zealand thrush
  • several species of wrens
  • three frog species
  • one bat species
  • at least 12 invertebrates such as snails and insects
  • the world’s largest ever gecko
  • the New Zealand trout.

The most recent extinction was the South Island kokako, last seen in the 1980s.

The task ahead

With more than 1000 threatened animal, plant and fungi species in New Zealand today - that we know of - protection and conservation is a complex task.

Importance of our biodiversity 

Our biological wealth

New Zealand’s natural living space is New Zealand’s biological wealth. We base much of our economy on the use of natural resources and benefits from the services provided by healthy, functioning ecosystems.

Our natural world inspires our national icons - the kiwi, silver fern and koru - and our relationship with our environment shapes who we are as New Zealanders.

The value of biodiversity

While biodiversity services come for free in the form of rainfall, wind, landscapes, waterways, coastlines, oceans, animals, plants and fungi, that doesn’t mean they have no value.

In 1997 Massey University economists calculated that native biodiversity contributed NZ$230 billion a year to New Zealand’s economy; well over twice the value of our gross domestic product (GDP). Marine ecosystems, they found, contributed NZ$184 billion of that total.

Simply by being there our biodiversity contributes to everyone’s wellbeing. Biodiversity is a complex web upon which much depends; a web that provides the services we rely on for our quality of life, our prosperity, and ultimately our survival.

Protecting and investing in our biodiversity 

We need to protect

New Zealand has a vast wealth of unique animals, plants and ecosystems, but we also have one of the highest percentages of threatened species in the world. We have much to lose so we need to do more to protect them.

Protecting what remains of New Zealand's biodiversity requires more than a legal framework.  Predator control, education, community restoration projects, conservation volunteers and partnerships with business are just some of the methods DOC use to battle biodiversity loss.

We need to invest

Protecting the environment our unique animals and plants live in is an investment in every New Zealander's future.

Wetlands filter impurities from the water we end up drinking. They trap and hold floodwaters, sparing our towns and cities the worst of downstream impacts. Rivers turn the turbines of hydroelectricity stations. Trees soak up carbon dioxide helping ease the impacts of climate change. Their deep roots hold soils fast to New Zealand's hill country preventing erosion and landslides. The fish in our sea represent a resource which the New Zealand Seafood Industry Council values at being worth nearly $4 billion. Insects pollinate the food plants we need to survive and provide the labour for our billion dollar horticulture sector.

Nature does all of these jobs - and many more - for free, saving us millions of dollars in infrastructure and services. Nature is fundamental to economic growth and sustainable development, providing ecosystem services and delivering the landscapes and wildlife our tourism industry depends on.

Investing in New Zealand's environment is an investment in our future; nature occupies a fundamental place in our living space not simply as a decorative backdrop but as the cornerstone of our lives and prosperity.

We need to work together

We all live in this unique environment and how we live has an impact. Protecting and investing in our natural living space is everyone's responsibility.

International Decade of Biodiversity

The United Nations has declared 2011–2020 as the International Decade of Biodiversity.

Back to top