Key Terms and Definitions

What is indigenous?

Indigenous species include migratory species that travel from New Zealand to other parts of the world to either breed or feed. Albatrosses and many species of petrels, for example, breed in colonies on land in New Zealand. When they have finished breeding, they travel to feed in oceans in other parts of the world, often thousands of kilometres from New Zealand. In contrast, the Arctic waders breed in the northern hemisphere and travel south to spend summer feeding in New Zealand when it is winter in the Arctic.

Many indigenous marine and some freshwater species also travel to and from New Zealand waters. Humpback whales pass through New Zealand waters on their way north from their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic to their winter breeding grounds near Tonga. Long- and short-finned eels travel from New Zealand waterways 5000 kilometres into the Pacific to breed, returning as larvae drifting on currents.

Recent arrivals that have reached New Zealand without human intervention are also considered to be indigenous species. An example is the welcome swallow, which was first noticed breeding near Kaitaia in 1958 and has since spread throughout much of the country. Plants are also still arriving naturally. An example is a tongue orchid (Cryptostylis subulata), which arrived recently from Australia by wind on the high altitude jet stream. Tongue orchids have been able to establish in Northland swamps because the specific Australian wasp they need for pollination has also arrived here.

What is endemic?

New Zealand’s endemic species include birds that breed only in New Zealand, but which may disperse to other countries in the non-breeding season or as sub-adults. Examples of New Zealand endemic birds are kiwi, kokako and royal albatross. Endemic species are of high conservation importance as they are unique to our country and only the protection of their natural habitat in New Zealand can ensure their survival.

Ecosystem services

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy describes ecosystem services as:

“The free ‘services’ such as clean air and water that are provided by healthy ecosystems are often taken for granted. Although New Zealand’s land-based primary production (such as farming, forestry and horticulture) is based on introduced species, its success relies on natural biological systems…

“A 1997 study by Massey University economists suggested that the total annual value provided by New Zealand’s native biodiversity to the country’s economy could be more than twice the value of our gross domestic product. They estimated the annual value of native biodiversity on land in 1994 at $46 billion, and valued marine ecosystem services at $184 billion – a total of $230 billion a year. By comparison, New Zealand’s gross domestic product that year was $84 billion.

“Scientists believe that possible uses of our native biodiversity that may lead to new economic opportunities – such as new medicines – have still to be discovered.

“Protecting biodiversity can be likened to buying an insurance policy because it keeps our options open. Biodiversity is vital for the ‘clean and green’ image that supports our primary producers and tourism industry, as well as our growing film industry.”


Alien species:

See Introduced species below.

Biological diversity:

See What is biodiversity?

Biosecurity (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

The protection of people and natural resources, including biodiversity, from unwanted organisms capable of causing harm.

Biota (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

All the living organisms at a particular locality.


Buffer zones are areas around a remnant that are managed to limit adverse effects from adjacent land uses. An example is a shrubby buffer around a forest remnant. Benefits of buffers can include:

  • decreasing fire risk
  • protecting forest edges from wind penetration and weeds
  • protecting sensitive plants and animals in the remnant interior
  • limiting input of nutrients and sediment (especially to wetlands and aquatic ecosystems)

Climate change (from Resource Management Act 1991):

This means a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

Coastal environment (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An environment in which the coast is a significant element or part. The extent of the coastal environment will vary from place to place depending on how much it affects, or is affected by, coastal processes and the management issues concerned. It includes at least three distinct, but inter-related, parts: the coastal marine area, active coastal zone and land back-drop.

Conservation (from Conservation Act 1987):

[In respect of conservation areas] the preservation and protection of natural and historic resources for the purpose of maintaining their intrinsic values, providing for their appreciation and recreational enjoyment by the public, and safeguarding the options of future generations.

Convention on Biological Diversity (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An international agreement on biological diversity that came into force in December 1993. The objectives of the Convention are: the conservation of biological diversity; the sustainable use of its components; and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources.

Ecological corridor:

An ecological corridor can be described as a narrow strip of habitat connecting two or more larger areas of similar habitat and potentially used by wildlife so allowing movement between primary habitats. Corridors have been considered important for migration and to reduce extinction rates in a fragmented landscape although this does not always occur.

The effectiveness of corridors varies considerably between species. In addition to assisting the movement of desired native species, corridors can also enable the spread of predators, disease organisms and opportunistic species such as weeds.

The concept of a corridor tends to be used loosely although particular species have specific requirements. Aspects to consider include the shape, the type of habitat and how it assists the dispersion of particular species.

A corridor should only be used as an offset or trade-off for the negative ecological consequences of habitat fragmentation where the benefits of a particular corridor can be clearly demonstrated for an identified species.

Ecological district (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A local part of New Zealand where the features of geology, topography, climate and biology, plus the broad cultural pattern, inter-relate to produce a characteristic landscape and range of biological communities unique to that area. In New Zealand, 268 ecological districts have been identified and mapped (at 1:500,000 scale).


The study of the relationships between organisms and their environments, including: the interactions of living organisms with one another and with their non-living surroundings; the flow of matter and energy in an environment; and the structure and functions of nature. The term was coined in 1866 by German biologist Ernst Haeckel from the Greek ‘oikos’ meaning ‘house’ and ‘logos’ meaning ‘science’.


Eco-sourcing is sourcing native plants from local seed or vegetative material for local use in plantings. It is used in order to ensure that:

  • plants will be well adapted to surviving in the environment where they are planted
  • genetic provenance of the local species is retained, enabling the local population to maintain its ability to survive in the local environment
  • vegetation is being restored as close as possible to the vegetation type that naturally grows in the area
  • cultivar and hybrid forms that do not grow locally are not used
  • native species are not planted outside their natural ecological range.

Edge effect (forests):

The edges of areas of indigenous vegetation are where the impacts of surrounding land use are greatest and are where pests and weeds can invade and penetrate edges more easily. For a forest this is where light levels are higher and soil moisture and humidity are less. The edge effect can be seen most clearly where mature native forest adjoins pasture. Where a forest becomes highly fragmented (eg, by roads), the effective edge becomes proportionally larger relative to the intact core. This can be seen by comparing figures 1(a) and 1(b) below.

Figure 1(a) Intact forest Figure 1(b) fragmentation increases
forest edge

Figure1a and b 


Recreating the same ecosystem that used to exist in the area by using plants that grew naturally at the site and matching each plant species to its preferred habitat.

Ecosystem (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An interacting system of living and non-living parts such as sunlight, air, water, minerals and nutrients. Ecosystems can be small and short-lived, for example, water-filled tree holes or rotting logs on a forest floor, or large and long-lived such as forests or lakes.

Endemic species (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An indigenous species that breeds only within a specified region or locality and is unique to that area. New Zealand’s endemic species include birds that breed only in New Zealand, but which may disperse to other countries in the non-breeding season or as sub-adults.


See Introduced species below.

Fauna (from Reserves Act 1977):

Animals of any kind.

Flora (from Reserves Act 1977):

Plants of any kind.


The clearance or loss of parts of a continuous natural area in a manner that reduces its total area and will change it in one or more of the following ways:

  • increasing the amount of edge
  • decreasing the amount of interior habitat
  • isolation of one fragment from other natural areas
  • breaking up of one natural area into several smaller patches
  • decreasing the average size of each natural area patch.

Genetic diversity:

See Biological diversity above.


This has two potential meanings. The first, and one used in this guidance note, is that it is the environment of a particular organism. For example, the habitat of kokako is mature podocarp/mixed broadleaved forest, while the habitat of fernbird is relatively undisturbed wetland and scrub.

The alternative usage is that a habitat is a relatively homogeneous ‘mini-ecosystem’ that is spatially bounded.

Indigenous species (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A plant or animal species that occurs naturally in New Zealand. A synonym is ‘native’.

Indigenous vegetation (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

Any local indigenous plant community containing throughout its growth the complement of native species and habitats normally associated with that vegetation type or having the potential to develop these characteristics. It includes vegetation with these characteristics that has been regenerated with human assistance following disturbance, but excludes plantations and vegetation that have been established for commercial purposes.

Introduced species (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A plant or animal species that has been brought to New Zealand by humans, either by accident or design. A synonym is ‘exotic species’.

Invasive species (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An animal pest or weed that can adversely affect indigenous species and ecosystems by altering genetic variation within species, or by affecting the survival of species, or the quality or sustainability of natural communities. In New Zealand, invasive animal pests or weeds are almost always species that have been introduced to the country.

Invertebrate (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An animal without a backbone or spinal column. Insects, spiders, worms, slaters and many marine animals such as corals, sponges and jellyfish are examples of invertebrates. Invertebrates make up the majority of all animal species; only fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals are not invertebrates.

Mainland island (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

An area of land on mainland New Zealand, isolated by means of fencing or geographical features, and intensively managed for the purpose of protecting and restoring habitats and ecological processes.


Species that move annually and seasonally between breeding and non-breeding areas either within New Zealand (eg, wrybill, whitebait) or to other countries (eg, godwit, long-finned eel). In the Department of Conservation tables of threatened species, migrants are considered to be taxa that predictably and cyclically visit New Zealand as part of their normal life cycle, but do not breed here.

Native species:

See Indigenous species above.

Natural habitats and ecosystems (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

Habitats and ecosystems with a dominant or significant indigenous natural character. They do not include modified areas, such as farm or forestry land, where the indigenous vegetation has largely been replaced, although these areas may still provide important habitat for indigenous species.

Naturalised (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A species or other taxon, originating from a region outside New Zealand, but reproducing freely and maintaining its position in competition with indigenous biota in New Zealand.

Protected area (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A geographically defined area that is protected primarily for nature conservation purposes or to maintain biodiversity values, using any of a range of legal mechanisms that provide long-term security of either tenure or land use purpose. It may be either publicly or privately owned.

Protected area network (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A network or system of protected areas. The principal criteria for New Zealand’s protected area network are as follows:

  • comprehensiveness: the degree to which the full range of ecological communities and their biological diversity are incorporated within protected areas
  • representativeness: the extent to which areas selected for inclusion in the protected area network are capable of reflecting the known biological diversity and ecological patterns and processes of the ecological community or ecosystem concerned, or the extent to which populations represent or exemplify the range of genetic diversity of a taxonomic unit.


See Protected area network above.

Restoration (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

The active intervention and management of degraded biotic communities, landforms and landscapes in order to restore biological character, ecological and physical processes and their cultural and visual qualities.


Re-establishing a cover of vegetation.

Riparian (from Johnson & Gerbeaux (2004) Wetland Types in New Zealand):

Situated along the immediate margin of a river or stream.

Riverine (from Johnson & Gerbeaux (2004) Wetland Types in New Zealand):

Hydrosystem associated with rivers, streams and other open channels, both natural and artificial, where the dominant function is continually or intermittently flowing fresh water. Although many wetlands occupy landforms such as valley floors, floodplains and deltas which owe their genesis to river processes, the riverine hydrosystem extends only so far as flowing channels retain a current influence, which can be defined as the extent covered by the mean annual flood.

Species (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy):

A group of organisms capable of interbreeding freely with each other but not with members of other species.

Taxon (from New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy) (plural taxa):

A named biological classification unit assigned to individuals or sets of species, for example, species, sub-species, genus or order.

Threatened species:

A species or community that is vulnerable, endangered or presumed extinct. The Department of Conservation has assessed species in New Zealand using criteria relating to the number of mature individuals in the species, the ongoing or predicted population trends in response to threats, how many populations there are and how widespread or localised they are. Threatened taxa have been classified into three categories: nationally critical, nationally endangered and nationally vulnerable.

Tree (Defined by the Environment Court having regard to the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, 6th Edition, OUP):

Means a woody perennial plant, typically having a single stem or trunk growing to a considerable height and bearing lateral branches at some distance from the ground. In the absence of any definition in the Act itself, a district plan may contain its own definition of trees which, in those cases, would prevail over this definition.

Vascular plants:

In general, this refers to plants with a vascular system that transports water and food throughout the plant. Includes ferns, flowering plants and trees and those that bear cones, but does not include mosses and liverworts.

Weeds (Landcare Research):

A weed is a plant growing where it is not wanted and with a harmful impact. Environmental weeds are plants that invade native vegetation and are harmful to native ecosystems. Also referred to as pest plants or invasive plants.

Wetland (from Resource Management Act 1991):

Includes permanently or intermittently wet areas, shallow water and land water margins that support a natural ecosystem of plants and animals that are adapted to wet conditions.