Helping primary production and native biodiversity work together

  • Research assistant Stacey Bryan out in the field

    Research assistant Stacey Bryan out in the field

The humble tea bag is significant for researchers studying native biodiversity in agricultural landscapes – as a tool to measure how carbon is stored and processed in New Zealand farm ecosystems.

PhD students working on a project to understand and improve native biodiversity on sheep and beef farms are burying teabags beneath different kinds of vegetation such as pine trees, pasture and native scrub, then digging them up three months later to calculate how much tea has been decomposed. This illustrates how much the soil is decomposing – faster decomposition means more carbon is being released into the atmosphere, a key factor in terms of climate change.

Burying the teabags is just one method that a multidisciplinary team of researchers is using to understand the current state of native biodiversity on sheep and beef farms, and how biodiversity is perceived and managed by the New Zealand agricultural sector.

The team is being led by Associate Professor Hannah Buckley, of Auckland University of Technology, and Professor David Norton of the University of Canterbury. Their ultimate aim is to determine how native biodiversity can be managed in agricultural landscapes in a way that will benefit both farming and native biodiversity. The project feeds into BioHeritage’s goal of creating resilient and thriving ecosystems that New Zealanders are proud of.

Bringing together biological scientists, social scientists, iwi, farmers, and local communities throughout the country, this research helps to fill the gaps in current knowledge regarding biodiversity conservation in agricultural systems.

The team is defining social, cultural and biophysical drivers of native biodiversity loss, retention and restoration on sheep and beef farms. They are quantifying native biodiversity values on farms, such as bird and plant diversity, and modelling the economic consequences of different biodiversity management scenarios for the farm business.

Scaling up the research using spatial modelling, the team aims to show how on-farm biodiversity management can help enhance biodiversity conservation across landscapes. This is particularly important as many of our iconic species, such as the native birds kererū and tui, use much larger areas of habitat than single farms.

The ultimate aim is to develop ways of helping farmers include biodiversity conservation in land management decision-making and farm management plans.

If the teabag pilot study is a success, the research team can combine this with other on-farm measurements of carbon storage and processes to estimate the amount of carbon stored on farms. These estimates will form the basis for modelling future carbon scenarios that are at a national scale.

The project is a collaboration between multi-disciplinary researchers from Auckland University of Technology, Canterbury University, AgResearch and the University of Auckland, together with Beef & Lamb NZ, QEII Trust, Landcare Trust, the Ministry for the Environment, Māori agribusiness and regional councils.

BioHeritage’s role is to break down barriers between organisations and individual scientists by coordinating and focusing the research of top scientists from our 18 Challenge Parties. The Parties working on this project are:

Norton DA, Butt J, Bergin DO. 2018. Upscaling restoration of native biodiversity: A New Zealand perspective. Ecological Management & Restoration. doi: 10.1111/emr.1231

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