Restoring indigenous nature in urban centres

19 December 2017

People, Cities and Nature researchers are setting up 81 vegetation plots in restored forest patches across New Zealand cities.

People, Cities and Nature is a multi-disciplinary urban ecological research programme, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. This new and exciting programme, led by University of Waikato Professor Bruce Clarkson, aims to restore indigenous biodiversity in urban environments across nine New Zealand cities.

The People, Cities and Nature programme focuses on six inter-related areas: restoration plantings, urban lizards, mammalian predators, Māori restoration values, green space benefits and cross-sector alliances.

Planting of native trees to restore forest patches in urban centres is an important conservation activity that has been gaining momentum in New Zealand. By setting up permanent plots in patches of previously restored native bush, the species’ diversity and the environmental conditions can be identified and quantified, providing researchers with insight into the most efficient conditions, methods and plant species for restoration. Plantings team leader Kiri Joy Wallace has been selecting sites around the country and refining the research methodology for six months. “The sheer size of our programme will produce a remarkable dataset from which we can draw important ecological management knowledge,” she says.

As part of the programme, a dedicated research team is investigating where and how native lizards are surviving in New Zealand's urban environments and how these populations can be effectively managed. Most of the lizard species in New Zealand are indigenous and found nowhere else in the world. Unfortunately they are under threat by introduced predators such as rodents, cats and stoats. Small patches of lizard-suitable habitat are often found in urban environments; these habitat pockets are important for extinction prevention and ongoing lizard research. The research team uses pitfall trapping and systematic night searches to survey urban lizard populations in Hamilton, Wellington, Nelson and Dunedin. By monitoring environmental conditions and mammalian predator abundance, the researchers will test different methods for lizard habitat enhancement and create a spatial model to evaluate each city’s lizard populations.

Programme manager Catherine Kirby is passionate about working on a programme at the cutting edge of ecological research. "People, Cities and Nature pulls together six really interesting research areas and is the first time that leading researchers from across the country have focused on urban ecological restoration together," she says. "This programme is going to make a real difference for our understanding of people and urban nature."