Māori have developed practices and methods such as the use of ritenga (customs, laws, and protocols) and whakapapa (species assemblages within a holistic ecosystem paradigm) to mitigate risks and threats to both endemic biodiversity and primary production systems from pests, weeds and pathogens. However, the 21st century has seen a rapid increase in species introductions to New Zealand with dramatic consequences for both Māori livelihoods and cultural integrity. Our research focuses on a model case study highly relevant to Māori cultural integrity in order to demonstrate the biodiversity benefit from a functional hapū/iwi-specific response, which includes mātauranga approaches, to biosecurity risks and threats. As a consequence, hapū, iwi, and Māori organisations and researchers alike will be challenged to draw on both traditional and contemporary sources of knowledge to achieve transformational, Māori-led outcomes for the benefit of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Based on nationwide Māori community hui and researcher consultation we have chosen as an exemplar the plant pathogen myrtle rust (Puccinia psidii) which threatens terrestrial taonga of the Myrtaceae family (mānuka, rātā, pōhutukawa). The project includes development of a Māori community response, and upskilling young Māori scientists in the pathology and potential impacts of the disease. Until recently, this exemplar represented a pre-border incursion threat.
The aim of the project is to protect New Zealand’s biological heritage via Māori-led preparedness that incorporates Māori innovation and knowledge with traditional science scholarship and capability development. Focus on hapū, iwi, and Māori organisational responses to emerging and current biosecurity risks and threats across both managed and native ecosystems will optimises the prevention and management of biological incursions and their future impact on culturally, ecologically and economically important species. It will strengthen Māori connections with their environments, giving effect to the principles of kaitiakitanga (guardianship of natural resources), maramataka (seasonal planning) and socio-ecological links to promote and protect our taonga species and their ecosystems.
In addition, this project strengthens partnerships among New Zealand scientists and Māori communities, and with international collaborators based at the Forestry and Agricultural Biotechnology Institute in Pretoria, South Africa and Charles Darwin University in Australia. It will also nurture potential collaborative partnerships with KEW Botanical Gardens, UK and the USDA Forest Service in Hawai’i, USA.