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
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.
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.