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Bringing nature back into cities: urban land environments, indigenous cover and urban restoration

1. The restoration of urban ecosystems is an increasingly important strategy to maintain and enhance indigenous biodiversity as well as reconnecting people to the environment. High levels of endemism, the sensitivity of species that have evolved without humans, and the invasion of exotic species have all contributed to severe depletion of indigenous biodiversity in New Zealand. In this work, we analysed national patterns of urban biodiversity in New Zealand and the contribution that urban restoration can make to maximising and enhancing indigenous biodiversity. 2. We analysed data from two national databases in relation to the 20 largest New Zealand cities. We quantified existing indigenous biodiversity within cities, both within the core built up matrix and in centroid buffer zones of 5, 10 and 20 km around this urban centre. We analysed the type and frequency of land environments underlying cities as indicators of the range of native ecosystems that are (or can potentially be) represented within the broader environmental profile of New Zealand. We identified acutely threatened land environments that are represented within urban and periurban areas and the potential role of cities in enhancing biodiversity from these land environments. 3. New Zealand cities are highly variable in both landform and level of indigenous resource. Thirteen of 20 major land environments in New Zealand are represented in cities, and nearly three-quarters of all acutely threatened land environments are represented within 20 km of city cores nationally. Indigenous land cover is low within urban cores, with less than 2% on average remaining, and fragmentation is high. However, indigenous cover increases to more than 10% on average in the periurban zone, and the size of indigenous remnants also increases. The number of remaining indigenous landcover types also increases from only 5 types within the urban centre, to 14 types within 20 km of the inner urban cores. 4. In New Zealand, ecosystem restoration alone is not enough to prevent biodiversity loss from urban environments, with remnant indigenous cover in the urban core too small (and currently too degraded) to support biodiversity long-term. For some cities, indigenous cover in the periurban zone is also extremely low. This has significant ramifications for the threatened lowland and coastal environments that are most commonly represented in cities. Reconstruction of ecosystems is required to achieve a target of 10% indigenous cover in cities: the addition of land to land banks for this purpose is crucial. Future planning that protects indigenous remnants within the periurban zone is critical to the survival of many species within urban areas, mitigating the homogenisation and depletion of indigenous flora and fauna typical of urbanisation. A national urban biodiversity plan would help city councils address biodiversity issues beyond a local and regional focus, while encouraging predominantly local solutions to restoration challenges, based on the highly variable land environments, ecosystems and patch connectivity present within different urban areas.
Working Paper
Type of thesis
CBER Contract Report
Clarkson B. D., Wehi, P.M. & Brabyn, L.K. (2007). Bringing nature back into cities: urban land environments, indigenous cover and urban restoration. CBER Contract Report No. 52. Hamilton, New Zealand: Centre for Biodiversity and Ecology Research, Department of Biological Sciences, School of Science and Engineering, The University of Waikato.