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NZ completes catalogue of known life

New Zealand has become the first country in the world to catalogue its entire known living and fossil life. The New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity, edited by Dr Dennis Gordon, Principal Scientist at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), has been published in three volumes with the final volume launched at Te Papa on 21 May 2012.

Inventory of all known living and fossil species

The New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity is the combined work of 237 New Zealand and overseas scientists and inventories more than 56 200 living species and 14 700 fossil species, covering all known New Zealand life in all environments, from the Cambrian (around 530 million years ago) to the present day.

The 1758 page review and inventory of “all of life through all of time” in New Zealand took a decade to complete. No doubt, not all life has been discovered yet, especially in our marine areas. Approximately 1.8 million species of life have so far been described worldwide.

“We have done the stocktake now, and by bringing it all together in this work, everybody can see what we have, and we can use that information in all sorts of ways. Before the inventory, the species names were scattered throughout the scientific literature,” says Dr Gordon.

Part of global project to record all Earth’s named species

The work for the three volumes forms part of the Catalogue of Life – a global scientific project that aims to record all named species on Earth in one online list. “Our species names are being given to the catalogue through the New Zealand Organisms Register,” says Dr Gordon, who is a member of the international project team of the Catalogue of Life.

The inventory research also supports New Zealand conservation, biotechnology, ecosystem understanding, biosecurity and sustainable ecosystem management.

“Prior to this, New Zealand had a vast reservoir of undiscovered and unrecorded species – so back in 1997, when I was project leader for marine taxonomy, I thought what I might do is review what we know about our marine life and show the benefits of doing that,” says Dr Gordon. The project grew from that point.

The books: Volumes 1–3

Volume 1 (2009) and Volume 2 (2010) covered the animal kingdom, while Volume 3 deals with the remaining groups of life – bacteria, protozoans, algae, plants and fungi. All volumes are illustrated.

Volume 1 catalogues the branches of the animal kingdom that include living and fossil sponges and corals, worms, shellfish and their relatives, and vertebrates – fishes, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals.

Volume 2 mostly deals with the major branch of the animal kingdom known as Ecdysozoa (moulting animals), which includes arachnids, centipedes and millipedes, crustaceans, insects and related marine worms.

Dr Gordon and publisher Canterbury University Press hope the books will appeal to high school students. “I would really love to see students pick up one of these volumes and say, ‘Wow! I didn’t know we had this in New Zealand,’ and for that to feed an interest,” says Dr Gordon.

Publication information

New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity (Volume 3), edited by Dennis P. Gordon, published by Canterbury University Press, April 2012, RRP NZ$89.95, hardback, 616pp, incl. 16pp colour, ISBN 978-1-927145-05-0.

New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity (boxed set containing three volumes), RRP NZ$180, ISBN 978-1-927145-28-9.

Useful links

Explore the Catalogue of Life.
www.catalogueoflife.orgexternal link

Activity idea

The New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity is an important new inventory of New Zealand species. Your students may like to try this activity, in which they use a Landcare Research resource to identify insects.
Identifying bugs


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