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  • These interactive resources are all about takahē as well as supporting year 12 biology assessment AS91158.

    Image map interactive featuring takahē resources

    This interactive groups Hub and ZEALANDIA resources into key science and teaching concepts that underpin takahē conservation. It makes use of ZEALANDIA resources designed for learning towards Achievement Standard 91158 Investigate a pattern in an ecological community with supervision. Most of the resources can also be used with a younger audience. Click on the labels for links to supporting articles, media, data and student materials.

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    ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: Background image courtesy of Alison Ballance, Radio New Zealand.

    Download a PDF file of the transcript here.



    The Murchison Mountains area is a 51,000 hectare peninsula on the western side of Lake Te Anau. Three sides are bordered by the lake, and the fourth side is somewhat protected by its remoteness. It is identified in Aotearoa New Zealand as a specially protected area. The area holds a range of unique flora and fauna. It has a rugged climate and landscape that is home to a number of increasingly rare native birds. Most famous is the takahē, but also present are mohua (yellowhead), whio (blue duck), kea, kākā, kākāriki, kārearea (New Zealand falcon), weka, tuke (rock wren), miromiro (tomtit), tūī, korimako (bellbird), pīwakawaka (fantail), ‎tītipounamu (rifleman), riroriro (grey warbler), pīpipi (brown creeper), tauhou (silvereye), pīhoihoi (pipit) and kiwi.

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    Related ZEALANDIA resource:

    Image: Ludmila Ruzickova, 123RF Ltd

    All about takahē

    The takahē is endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand and has adapted to survive in some of our harshest landscapes. Once thought to be extinct, they were rediscovered in small numbers in 1948. Despite incredible conservation success since then, they are still vulnerable. Their survival depends on how we manage and protect the remaining populations and the environment they live in.

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    Acknowledgement: Department of Conservation, CC BY 4.0

    Ecological niche

    An ecological niche is the role and position a species has in its environment and how the environment supports the species’ needs. In their natural alpine habitat, takahē get their food and shelter from alpine grassland species such as snow tussocks, sedges and rushes.

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    Image: Chris Rance, Department of Conservation

    Unique New Zealand species

    The takahē is a large, flightless bird – the largest living rail bird in the world. Rails are a family of ground-living birds that live on every continent except Antarctica. Takahē are endemic to Aotearoa New Zealand, which means they naturally live here and nowhere else in the world. Takahē evolved without ground-dwelling predators. Like the kiwi, takahē adapted to this situation by developing a large body size, small wings and strong legs. On average, an adult takahē weighs 2–3.5 kg and stands about 500 mm high. This large body size is an advantage to species that live in cold environments.

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    • Adaptations visual organiser – template for students to organise ideas related to adaptations of red deer, stoat, snow tussock and takahē

    Acknowledgement: Photo of skeleton of a South Island takahē (Porphyrio hochstetteri) by Kane Fleury, courtesy of the Otago Museum, Dunedin.

    Point of interest: The greasy marks on the skeleton are artefacts from the process used to prepare this skeleton for the museum.

    Threats to takahē

    New Zealand birds evolved in isolation from natural predators for around 65 million years. When human settlers arrived, changes came rapidly and birds were poorly adapted to withstand threats to their survival. Hunting, loss of habitat and the introduction of predators all had disastrous effects on the state of our native birds, whose numbers declined rapidly.

    The Department of Conservation has led many initiatives to reverse this decline. Regardless of the natural population numbers before human arrival, it is clear that we’ve created a number of threats to the takahē’s continued existence.

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    Image: Red deer by Malgorzata Litkowska, 123RF Ltd

    Population data

    Collecting quality data to investigate and predict species interrelationships is vital to the decisions made in any conservation strategy, including the recovery of the takahē.

    Data collection needs to include other species linked by interrelationships within the communities where takahē live, for example, the interrelationships between takahē and stoats, takahē and red deer, red deer and snow tussock, and takahē and snow tussock.

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    The worksheets as detailed in the article Takahē – a context for learning and in this interactive planning pathway, can be used for Biology Achievement Standard 91158. They can also be used as stand-alone resources for learning about takahē biology and conservation.

    Data appendices – information for AS91158

    1. Prehistoric distribution of takahē – map
    2. Sightings of takahē in Fiordland (1987–2008) – map
    3. Takahē population trends (1981–2008) – line graph/Murchison/offshore islands
    4. Impact of temperature on adult takahē (1981–1994) – line graph
    5. Impact of deer culling operations in the Murchison Mountains (1963–2008) – line graph
    6. Stoat and rat trap kills (2003–2018) – line graphs
    7. Latest takahē population trends (2000–2017) – line graphs sanctuary/Fiordland
    8. Takahē population growth rate (2000–2016) – line graph
    9. Takahē population recruitment versus mortality (2006–2017) – line graph
    10. Takahē census results – Murchison Mountains 2014 – map
    11. Deer kills and helicopter hunting tracks in the Murchison Mountains – map
    12. Murchison Mountains stoat traps 2019 – map
    13. Stoat and rat trap kills (2006–2016) – line graph
    14. Relationship between the mean temperature and flowering in Chionochloa spp (masting and global warming) – bar graph
    15. Effect of climate change on masting Chionochloa (climate change/masting) – graphs on temperature and flowering
    16. Additional data from Takahē Recovery Programme (DOC) annual report 2017-18 – graph and tables
    17. Takahē adult survival in trapped and untrapped areas in the Murchison Mountains – graphs and table

    These thinking tools may also be useful:

    Acknowledgement: Alison Ballance, Radio New Zealand

    Community patterns

    In order to plan for the recovery of the takahē population, studies investigating the interactions and interrelationships of takahē populations and the communities they live in are important.

    Living parts of an ecosystem are called biotic factors, while the environmental factors that they interact with are called abiotic factors. Because living things both respond to and are influenced by their environment, it is important to study both factors together to get a full picture.

    Biological communities are an interacting group of various species in a common location. The composition of a community is often grouped into their feeding or trophic levels – producers or consumers.

    Investigating patterns in an ecological community will highlight multiple interrelationships and interactions. Often this is the data that will drive decisions in regard to conservation initiatives. In the case of the takahē, population data about stoats, red deer and snow tussock grass show significant interactions and identify threats.

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    Image: South Island Takahē, Porphyrio hochstetteri, collected 11 December 1949, Takahē Valley, Fiordland, New Zealand. Field Collection 1948 - 1966. Te Papa Tongarewa (OR.000546).

    Acknowledgement: Te Papa Tongarewa, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.


    Takahē once lived throughout Te Waipounamu South Island but were officially declared extinct in 1898. People thought that the takahē had experienced the same fate as the moa and the moho (North Island takahē).

    After some detective work and a carefully planned search, takahē were rediscovered in Fiordland’s Murchison Mountains in 1948. The location was declared a special area and closed to public access. For more than 65 years, takahē have been a focus of conservation efforts and have pioneered world-recognised conservation techniques.

    There have been four national recovery plans in place for takahē. The main objective of the fourth plan (2007–2012) was to increase the takahē population by 25%. The current national Takahē Recovery Programme (2012–2026) is guided by the following aims: increase the population growth rate to greater than 5% per year; a minimum of 90 breeding pairs at secure sites; maintain the Murchison Mountains as a key habitat for takahē; establish at least one new recovery site; and share the story of the takahē as a conservation icon.

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    Related ZEALANDIA resources:

    Can we make New Zealand pest-free? introduces a comprehensive suite of resources by ZEALANDIA supporting schools to explore New Zealand’s pest-free vision.

    Acknowledgement: Photo of Dr Geoffrey Orbell (right) and Neil McCrostie, courtesy of the Orbell family.

    Student worksheets

    ZEALANDIA has produced a series of worksheets for a unit ‘Where have all the takahē gone?’ The worksheets support senior biology and are specifically designed for learning towards Achievement Standard 91158 Investigate a pattern in an ecological community with supervision.

    Many of the materials can be used as stand-alone resources for learning about takahē biology and conservation. Links to many of the other resources, including additional student thinking tools, can be found in the article Takahē – a context for learning or throughout this interactive planning pathway.

    ZEALANDIA’s student worksheets:

    IMAGE: Photo of takahē footprints in snow courtesy of Alison Ballance, Radio New Zealand


    Adaptation is an evolutionary process whereby a species becomes increasingly well suited to living and successfully breeding in a particular habitat. These are changes that usually occur over many, many generations. Scientists categorise adaptations into three types – structural (or morphological), behavioural and physiological.

    Takahē have adapted to living on the forest edge and in the open tussock plains. They have vestigial wings and cannot fly. They have evolved a larger body size with short, thick-set legs. Takahē have strong beaks that can strip the high nutrient food off the tussock grasses and not create lasting damage to the plant. They have a large range and are territorial.

    Related Hub resources

    Related ZEALANDIA resource:

    • Adaptations visual organiser – template for students to organise ideas related to adaptations of red deer, stoat, snow tussock and takahē

    IMAGE: Martin Sanders

    BEANZ AS91158

    ZEALANDIA in collaboration with the Department of Conservation’s Takahē Recovery Programme has produced a set of resources tailored to support senior biology, in particular Biology 2.6 Achievement Standard 91158 Investigate a pattern in an ecological community, with supervision.

    • Suggested teaching programme for year 12 ecology - Where have all the takahē gone? – This outline is a suggested approach for teachers using the ZEALANDIA resources that covers key ecological concepts along with supporting content, resources, learning activities, assessment ideas and vocabulary. Links to the related resources can be found in the article Takahē – a context for learning.
    • Student introduction to task AS91158 – Where have all the takahē gone? – This information sheet describes what students will investigate in relation to the plight of the takahē and assessment requirements.
    • Assessment materials (QAAMed), including marking scheme, assessment schedule, rubric and student exemplars can be found on the BEANZ (Biology Educators Association of New Zealand) website.
    • BEANZ has assisted in getting the assessment materials QAAMed. Use of Quality Assured Assessment Materials (QAAM) means biology educators can be confident in their use as they are approved quality assessments.

    IMAGE: Biology Educators Association of New Zealand (BEANZ)

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato Published 11 February 2019, Updated 15 December 2023 Size: 490 KB Referencing Hub media
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