A national framework for biological heritage assessment across natural and production landscapes

  • Botanical survey, Nethorn. Image - Andrea Byrom
  • Broom (Cytisus scoparius) flowers. Image - John Hunt
  • Glenfern. Image - Andrea Byrom

Project 1.3

Leader: Dr Gavin Lear The University of Auckland

Mission Statement

To reverse the decline in New Zealand’s biological heritage we require tools to detect incursions, and changes in biodiversity and ecosystem function in order to implement effective mitigation strategies and assess conservation performance. The integration of nationally-consistent eDNA methodologies with existing monitoring programmes will deliver a step change in biodiversity assessment.


A first step in managing New Zealand’s Biological Heritage is to understand “what is out there”. This project will develop a New Zealand-wide framework and platform for biological heritage measurement and monitoring using environmental DNA (eDNA) data. Existing biodiversity assessment initiatives have not explicitly incorporated biosecurity and bioprotection information, and also, they typically exclude the vast majority of New Zealand’s biological heritage such as fungi, microbes, and invertebrates. This is despite the importance of these taxa for ecosystem function and biosecurity. Developing an eDNA framework and platform to measure and monitor biological heritage will allow surveillance of common, endangered, invasive, and elusive species and underpin environmental reporting. The methods will be extended across New Zealand to provide accessible, robust, and complete information on biological heritage at different temporal and spatial scales. Methodologies developed here will also contribute to other projects within New Zealand’s Biological Heritage National Science Challenge (NSC), and vice versa.

  1. Standardise eDNA data collection and bioinformatics processes across research groups.
  2. Establish national eDNA informatics platform for the measurement and monitoring of biological heritage across landscapes and for the detection of incursions.
  3. Use eDNA data to address questions on ecological function, biosecurity and biodiversity conservation at the New Zealand-wide scale.
  1. How does biological heritage scale spatially and temporally, and how does this scaling affect our ability to provide robust biodiversity information?
  2. How is biological heritage changing over time, and how will it respond in the future?
  3. How well do measures of diversity and function derived from eDNA correlate with traditional measures?
  4. How correlated are the community attributes of freshwater systems and the terrestrial catchments they drain?
  5. How widespread are invasive pests and diseases and how can eDNA contribute to early detection of new organisms?
  6. How do we best extract ecosystem function information from eDNA data?
  • MfE will be using eDNA to complement existing State of the Environmental reporting
  • Regional councils will be using eDNA metrics to complement existing terrestrial and freshwater environmental monitoring and reporting
  • DOC will be using eDNA in their Tier 1 monitoring framework as well as for detection of threatened species
  • MPI and other biosecurity stakeholders will be using eDNA to detect and monitor threats both pre- and post-border
  • Primary production stakeholders will be using eDNA to monitor ecosystem functioning across productive landscapes
  • At least one iwi will be using eDNA to complement existing Maori specific environmental indicators.

The Project Leader will be Dr Gavin Lear (University of Auckland), and the team will include representatives from all institutions engaged in eDNA data collection and analysis. This includes both CRIs and universities. This team has all the expertise required for delivering on the goals of the Projectand Challenge Mission, including molecular bioinformatics, data analysis, molecular biology, ecology, and environmental monitoring and reporting.


Identifying the biases associated with DNA extraction methods for eDNA research

We are trying to determine the best DNA extraction method to identify a wide range of organisms present…

Investigating local patterns in microbial communities: characterising and quantifying the links between soil and freshwater

By collecting both soil and stream samples within a single catchment, we want to determine whether there is…


Holdaway, R.J., J.R.Wood, I.A. Dickie, K.H. Orwin, S.J. Richardson, P.O.’B. Lyver, and T.R.Buckley. 2016. Using DNA metabarcoding to assess New Zealand’s terrestrial biodiversity. New Zealand Journal of Ecology, in review.
This manuscript describes the current state of the field of metabarcoding technologies and outlines their future application across New Zealand.

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