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  • Aotearoa New Zealand is home to an amazing diversity of living things, many of which are endemic – only found here. Nowhere else on the planet has such a range of bird and insect life but with so few endemic terrestrial mammals (just two species of bats). Many of our plants, fungi and freshwater fish are also endemic.

    When we move from the land to New Zealand’s huge underwater area (the exclusive economic zone), the list of native and endemic species becomes truly enormous. Around 80% of our native species actually live in the ocean!

    Rights: Crown copyright ©, CC BY 4.0

    Our climate, our biodiversity infographic

    Increased greenhouse gas concentrations are warming the climate, which affects the biodiversity and people of Aotearoa.

    Download this image as a PDF.

    Source: Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ, and data providers, and licensed by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

    Threats to our native species

    Our unique species have been facing numerous threats – from predators, myrtle rust, kauri dieback and other biosecurity issues. Climate change creates additional problems and has the potential to worsen existing threats. Atmospheric greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to increase. Because the Earth is a system where everything is interconnected, changes in one area can influence changes in all others.

    Our atmosphere and climate support all aspects of our lives. They underpin the functioning of ecosystems, our economy and communities, with consequences for our safety and security.

    Our atmosphere and climate 2023 is an environmental report produced by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ. It examines the most up-to-date environmental indicators and recent scientific evidence regarding the changing state of the atmosphere and climate. The report intentionally expands the integration of te ao Māori and mātauranga Māori as well as Māori research and evidence. The 2023 report places a primary emphasis on the effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems. It also describes the impact of climate change on our public health, wellbeing, culture, economy, infrastructure and recreation.

    Rights: Kelly Hare, University of Otago

    Otago skink

    The Otago skink is one of our largest native skinks and is only found in Otago. It is ranked as nationally critical. The Department of Conservation administers the Grand and Otago Skink Recovery Plan.

    Examples of changes to native species

    Climate change is causing many changes:

    • Species’ physiology – for example, Otago skinks are well adapted to live in cooler climates. When their body temperatures become too warm, they seek shelter to cool down. This means less time out and about to find food or defend their territories.
    • Species’ distribution – for example, native butterflies are predated by introduced wasps. Alpine butterflies have been able to avoid this risk as their habitats are above the wasps’ altitudinal limit. Warming temperatures allow wasps to live at higher altitudes and pose a danger to butterflies and other native invertebrates.
    • Population dynamics – for example, tuatara have a system called temperature-dependent sex determination. Tuatara lay their eggs in soil, and the temperature of the surrounding soil determines the sex of the offspring – warmer temperatures produce males and cooler temperatures produce females. There’s a risk that warming temperatures will impact population viability due to higher ratios of males.
    • The timing of biological events – for example, the frequency of mast events – when plants produce a larger than normal amount of seeds – has been linked to changes in temperature. Beech mast can lead to an outbreak of pests, which poses an increased threat to native animals.

    Although these examples focus on individual species, all of them are an integral part of complex food webs and ecosystems. Changes can have cascading effects to other parts of the system. The impact of climate change on one species can ripple through a food web and affect a wide range of other organisms. It is like a chain of reaction and has the potential to disrupt many ecological processes.

    Species can persist in changing environments by either moving to better conditions or by adapting. Some species are highly adaptable and can tolerate various climatic conditions, while others can’t. For example, warming may force some species to migrate to higher elevations where temperatures are more conducive to their survival. Similarly, as sea level rises, saltwater intrusion into a freshwater system may force some key species to relocate or die.

    Visualising the impacts on biodiversity

    Our climate, our biodiversity, our future is an interactive storymap that uses a collection of stories arranged to show the interconnection of ki uta ki tai – mountains to the sea – which illustrate how the climate is changing, how it impacts our indigenous biodiversity and what is being done to help. This activity helps educators deepen student engagement with the storymap.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Tī kōuka in flower

    Some iwi use the flowering of tī kōuka or cabbage tree (Cordyline australis) to make predictions about the weather.

    Impacts on humans

    Humans are part of te taiao, not separate from it. Climate change also has impacts on people and our cultural, social and economic wellbeing. For Māori, climate change threatens the loss of culturally significant land, taonga species and resources affecting the perpetuity of mātauranga and tikanga.

    The combined climate and biodiversity crisis pervades almost every aspect of our life and society. Shifts in these systems threaten our safety and security, jeopardise the links between people and the environment, and affect our physical, economic, mental and cultural health.

    Our atmosphere and climate 2023

    Indigenous knowledge is impacted by changing climates, seasons and loss of taonga species, but it is also adaptable. For example, traditional tohu, which are used to help forecast changes in the natural environment, are becoming less reliable – the timings of tohu are changing. Māori developed detailed knowledge of tohu through close interactions with local environments and processes over time and have been able to contextualise the effects of climate change at local scales.

    The changing climate does require knowledge adaptation to happen quite quickly, and this may affect the environmental observations of the maramataka in some areas and undermine mātauranga Māori. However, a changing climate is not new for Māori. Māori have always been scientists through navigating expansive oceans, applying a detailed regionally specific division of time and being immersed with the natural rhythms of the environment.

    Explore additional Māori insight – māramatanga Māori – related to climate and impact on biodiversity.

    Human intervention (emissions reduction and biosecurity responses), mitigation and adaptation can create change. Strong evidence – through the use of two knowledge systems here in Aotearoa – positions us well to best deal with the threat of climate change and biodiversity loss.

    Nature of science

    The complexity of the climate system means it can take time for observations related to climate change to be confirmed statistically. Aotearoa has some valuable long-term environmental datasets. Quality data is crucial for understanding how actual observed changes are tracking with climate projections and whether any adjustments in the projections are needed.

    Related content

    Explore additional Māori insight – māramatanga Māori – related to climate and impact on biodiversity.

    Biodiversity concepts:

    Climate change resource curations:

    • Our atmosphere and climate – introduction curates a suite of resources developed in collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ. Resources highlight climate connections and implications for Aotearoa and for Māori. They have a strong focus on evidence and data.
    • Our atmosphere and climate 2020 – a collection focusing on the 2020 report.
    • Climate change – a collection with a focus on the science of climate change and associated socio-scientific issues, including melting ice and sea-level rise.
    • Climate change (HoS) supports the House of Science Climate Change resource kit but it is also useful for anyone exploring what is climate change, ocean acidification, sea and land water, how climate change affects Māori, the Earth’s interacting systems and ideas to tackle these wicked problems in the classroom.

    Useful links

    Stats NZ and the Ministry for the Environment report on the state of different aspects of the environment every 6 months and the environment as a whole every 3 years. Find their reports here.

    This New Zealand Herald article looks at how climate change is throwing beech forests ‘out of sync’.

    This American Scientist article looks at threats to tuatara.


    This resource has been produced with the support of the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ. © Crown copyright.

    Rights: Crown copyright

    Our atmosphere and climate 2023

    The Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ produce New Zealand’s Environmental Reporting Series. Our atmosphere and climate 2023 focuses on climate change, with an emphasis on the effects of climate change on biodiversity and ecosystems.

      Published 11 October 2023, Updated 15 February 2024 Referencing Hub articles

        Māuiui taiao māuiui tangata, oranga taiao oranga tangata – if the environment is sick, people are sick, if the environment is healthy, people are healthy.

        Embedded within mātauranga Māori is the principle that what affects individual parts affects the whole system, and this is clear when looking at the impacts of climate change on the environment.

        Rights: Crown copyright ©, CC BY 4.0

        Our climate, our biodiversity infographic

        Increased greenhouse gas concentrations are warming the climate, which affects the biodiversity and people of Aotearoa.

        Download this image as a PDF.

        Source: Ministry for the Environment, Stats NZ, and data providers, and licensed by the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ for re-use under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.

        Climate change threatens the loss of culturally significant land and taonga species. Iwi Māori have values stemming from tikanga and mātauranga that enable the preservation of flora and fauna. Mahinga kai is one such value that not only reflects the health and wellbeing of different environments but is connected to the health and wellbeing of all aspects of the environment. The concept of mahinga kai runs much deeper than a food-gathering place. Mahinga kai connects tangata with whenua (people with place) and is an intergenerational, holistic and integrated value. It extends beyond food resources to encompass the utilisation of a full suite of natural resources, including stones/trees used for fire making, tools, pounamu, hāngī stones, mud used for dyes, rongoā, flaxes for weaving, birds, fish and other resources associated with water and adjacent areas. A changing climate has impacts on mahinga kai and, as a consequence, the wider environment and people. We need to actively work towards a sustainable future by utilising mātauranga Māori alongside researched processes to ensure this comes to fruition.

        Many Māori communities are not passive victims of climate change and indigenous knowledge, and processes are now being used to help adapt to climate changes, through proven and sustainable methods based on mātauranga Māori methods and values such as active kaitiakitanga.

        Ngāti Mutunga

        Taonga species

        Taonga species are unquestionably treasured by Māori based on historical, cultural, spiritual and ecological significance. A changing climate is impacting our environment and the species within it. Taonga species are central to Māori identity to carry out fundamental manaakitanga and kaitiakitanga practices while allowing for the transfer of mātauranga to future generations. The resurgence of mātauranga Māori and the practices associated with this knowledge are proving to be of greater benefit within our communities. However, the climate changing faster does require knowledge adaptation to happen faster and is said by some to therefore be expected to undermine mātauranga Māori.

        Rights: Public domain

        Tuna – longfin eel (Anguilla dieffenbachii), a taonga species

        Tuna are central to the identity and wellbeing of many Māori. For generations this species has been the source of physical and spiritual sustenance for whānau, hapū and iwi.

        Rongoa Māori

        Rongoā Māori is one such practice and relies on natural ingredients, primarily native plants and herbs, to heal ailments. Rongoā Māori takes a holistic approach to healing, addressing not only physical symptoms but also emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Rongoā is still used extensively today – many of the medicines from plants are used to fight infection. A growing concern for practitioners of rongoā Māori is the difficulty in accessing the plants needed for rongoā. Another consequence is the loss of mātauranga Māori transmission regarding certain rākau as these plants are not available to keep this knowledge base alive. The gathering of rongoā plants must be carried out in a sustainable way to ensure there will still be some the next time it is needed.

        Rights: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 New Zealand Licence

        Early Māori

        Early Māori may not have known what scientists know about the immune system today but they knew how to fight infection and diseases through the use of rongoā.

        Engraving by Louis E. Ward, courtesy of The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre

        Related content

        In this article, read why climate change matters to Māori.

        Listening to the land is a Connected journal article that tells how mātauranga is being used to understand how climate change is affecting Aotearoa’s wildlife and ecosystems.

        Explore food and resource-gathering traditions practised by Ngāi Tahu whānau in Te Waipounamu in the activity Mahinga kai – natural resources than sustain life.

        Rongoā Māori

        Students’ understanding about science as a knowledge system can be further developed through discussion of the information in the article Rongoā Māori.

        In the activity Using rongoā Māori, students learn about rongoā Māori through a silent card game.

        Explore our collection of rongoā Māori resources, including helpful notes for teachers. Log in to make this collection part of your private collection – just click on the copy icon. You can then add additional content and notes and share and collaborate with others.


        This māramatanga Māori article has been produced alongside the resource Climate change and impacts on biodiversity, a collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ.

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