Enhancing native biodiversity in agroecosystems

  • Cows


  • Cabbage tree

    Cabbage tree

  • Pointing at nature

    Pointing at nature

Project 3.3

Leaders: Professor David Norton (University of Canterbury) and Associate Professor Hannah Buckley (Auckland University of Technology)

Mission Statement

This project aims to rebuild structure and enhance ecological function of native biodiversity on sheep and beef farms in Aotearoa New Zealand. By working with universities, research institutes, regional councils, iwi and farming communities across the country we will gain a well-rounded view of social and cultural attitudes towards biodiversity in agroecosystems. We will fill gaps in the current knowledge regarding how biodiversity contributes to ecological processes, economic outcomes and human well-being across these farming landscapes. By doing so we will learn how to manage biodiversity in agroecosystems in a way that results in gains for both farming and nature conservation.


Sheep and beef farms make up nearly 40% of New Zealand’s landscape and play a vital role in our economy. We know that native biodiversity can help agroecosystem resilience, but we don’t know what is required to create and support changes in how this biodiversity is regarded, protected and managed in agricultural landscapes. Given that these farms usually occur in the lowlands in New Zealand – where there is the least native biodiversity remaining – they might be the only opportunity we have to sustain some of our taonga (treasured) species.

This project brings together scientists, social scientists, iwi, farmers, and local communities throughout the country. By working together, we can understand the current state (biophysical, social, cultural and political) of biodiversity on sheep and beef farms. From there we can quantify all the costs and benefits (not just monetary) of improving biodiversity, and determine the best composition and spatial arrangement of land use that would benefit both our farms and our native flora and fauna.

If we can create a way to improve biodiversity in agroecosystems while improving the performance of the farm as a business, we can make conservation goals much more achievable for New Zealand’s sheep and beef farmers. Aotearoa will always rely on primary production and native biodiversity – it’s about time they started working together!

  • To gain a holistic view of how biodiversity is perceived and managed on sheep and beef farms in New Zealand and to understand the roles biodiversity plays on these farms with respect to ecological processes, economic outcomes and human well-being.
  • To determine how biodiversity can be managed in agroecosystems in the future, in a way that will benefit both farming and native biodiversity.
  1. What are the critical social and cultural factors that influence the way native biodiversity is managed in agroecosystems?
  2. What are the costs and benefits of retaining existing, and incorporating new, native biodiversity in agroecosystems?
  3. How does the composition and spatial arrangement of habitat in the farming landscape affect the functioning of native biodiversity?
  4. Can the role of ecological processes, land use change and management decisions be modelled to predict change in the functioning of native biodiversity?

This project combines contemporary science and Kaupapa Māori to investigate the values and management strategies on both Māori and non-Māori owned farms. Our approach incorporates Māori concepts and holistic perspectives such as whakapapa (genealogies), kaitiakitanga (environmental guardianship) and ki uta ki tai (landscape-level approach to managing resources). We will apply this approach in a multi-scale, cross-ecosystem framework that will use social, economic, and ecological measures to understand the connections and feedbacks among land owner decision making, biodiversity, and ecological function.

The main research team is led by Professor David Norton, University of Canterbury (UC) and Associate Professor Hannah Buckley, Auckland University of Technology (AUT). Joining them is Brad Case, Jennifer Pannell and Valance Smith, AUT; Margaret Stanley, University of Auckland; Stacey Bryan, UC; Fleur Maseyk, The Catalyst Group; and Margaret Brown, Estelle Dominati and Alec MacKay, AgResearch.

Norton DA, Butt J, Bergin DO. 2018. Upscaling restoration of native biodiversity: A New Zealand perspective. Ecological Management & Restoration. doi: 10.1111/emr.12316

Whats new?

An example of large scale restoration. Image David Norton, University of Canterbury
Eight ways to improve native vegetation on private land

5 July 2018 - Whats new

Researchers have come up with eight recommendations on how New Zealanders can help increase the benefits they reap…

Newsletter June 2018

3 August 2018 - Whats new

For the past two months we have been in writing and meeting modes here at Farming & Nature…

AUT Bachelor of Science student Ella Walmsley, left, and ecologist Davena Watkin bury tea bags on a remote Canterbury Farm.
Reading the tea leaves for climate change

8 June 2018 - Whats new

Reading the tea leaves has a taken a new twist, with tea bags being used to measure how…

Setting up tracking tunnels on our Ruapehu farm.
Newsletter April 2018

1 May 2018 - Whats new

As the summer has well and truly drawn to a close and many other projects are wrapping up…

Anoek Brugman helps to set up the first Tier 1 plot on our Ruapehu farm.
Newsletter February 2018

28 February 2018 - Whats new

The Farming & Nature Conservation team have been busy with field work over the past two months, making…

Research team viewing an “example farm”.
Newsletter December 2017

18 December 2017 - Whats new

We are excited to report that the project is well underway and already gaining great insight into biodiversity…

Follow the team on social media

Twitter account #FarmNatCons