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Terrestrial ecology

Terrestrial ecology

Updated 9 October 2019 3:27pm

Monitoring and understanding our ecosystems

We monitor the health of important land-based ecosystems in the Wellington region. We have a variety of monitoring programmes and investigations in progress to help us to track the health of ecosystems over time.

We monitor:

  • The presence and number of birds in different habitats (forests, coasts, rivers and wetlands) and lizards at selected sites
  • Tree health and forest regeneration
  • The number and impact of pest plant and animal species

Sharing our expertise

With expertise in plants, animals, ecology and conservation planning, we provide support to community groups involved in citizen science and ecological management projects. We are also part of other local and national initiatives like Predator Free Wellington and Project Kākā.

Monitoring programmes

Region-wide biodiversity monitoring

Using an 8 x 8 km grid, we have monitored 87 sites over five years to get a regional picture of the state of our biodiversity and how it is changing. The grid was set up by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and is also used by DOC to monitor conservation land. MfE and DOC monitor additional sites in the Wellington region for the same variables (vegetation, pests and birds). 

Read a report summarising data from 2014–2018

Wetland health

In our wetland health monitoring programme, we are surveying 150 wetlands across the region in five years from 2017. Thirty wetlands in the Ruamāhanga whaitua (catchment area) were assessed in 2016/2017 and thirty in the Kāpiti Coast whaitua were assessed in 2017/2018.

Kāpiti coast wetlands were generally in good condition. Many of them are important habitat for populations of spotless crake. Ruamāhanga wetlands were in a reasonable state but were affected by livestock grazing in the wetlands. These areas had lower levels of carbon and more compacted soil.

Read the Ruamāhanga whaitua and Kāpiti Coast whaitua data reports.

Dune monitoring

We began a regional dune monitoring programme in 2017 to detect the impacts of our management and climate change (especially sea level rise) on dune ecosystems. The monitoring includes recording the vegetation, condition and pests at each dune location and rotates across different sites in different years.

In 2017/2018, dunes at Peka Peka, Whitireia Park, Makara Bay and Red Rocks were studied: these were found to be in a poor condition, with about two thirds of the plants being non-native. In 2018/2019, dunes on the Ōtaki Coast, Tora Coast and the coastal dunes at Mukamukaiti were assessed.

Outcome monitoring

We monitor the health of forest plants and bird species in the Wainuiomata Mainland Island and other Key Native Ecosystems to determine the outcomes of management. Lizard populations are monitored at selected sites.

Conservation planning

Our monitoring data helps us understand the Wellington region’s land-based ecosystems. It also supports the development of region-wide conservation planning tools, including the identification of high value ecological sites and threatened forest types.

Read our report about identifying high value ecological sites in Wellington

Collaborative projects

Wairarapa Moana

This project includes Lake Wairarapa, Lake Ōnoke and spit, and the wetlands adjacent to the lakes. Our research and monitoring is important for understanding these complex ecosystems, how the wetlands are functioning and what restoration actions are important.

Recent work included a perch egg removal trial (perch are a non-native fish) as part of ongoing work to improve the health of the wetlands. We also survey the population of Australasian bittern in the wetland complex each year, to check the status of the population and find out how well our management is working. This is the only self-sustaining population of this bird in the region – its threat status is Nationally Critical.

We work closely with DOC on behalf of the Wairarapa Moana Wetland group, which includes iwi, hapū and the South Wairarapa District Council.

Read more about Wairarapa Moana

Project Kākā

Our work with DOC in the Tararua Ranges (Ōtaki Forks to Holdsworth Lodge) is measuring the effects of large-scale possum, rat and stoat control using aerially applied 1080. This ten-year pest control and monitoring programme involves a number of agencies and volunteers working together to target the pest species that are the biggest threat to native birds and forest ecosystems.

Read more about the project

Predator Free Wellington

Our work as part of Predator Free Wellington involves developing and running a programme of monitoring and research on Miramar peninsula.

Since 2011 we have recorded the number of birds at monitoring stations in Wellington City Council reserves each year. Rodent tracking tunnels were added at the same sites in 2016 and are monitored in May and November.

This monitoring is collecting information about changes in bird and rodent  populations that is particularly valuable for initiatives like Predator Free Miramar and Predator Free Wellington.


We issue permits for collecting plant material in regional parks and forests, and carry out impact assessments for activities in these areas.

Recent reports

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Small Mammal Monitoring Report, August 2019

Wellington coastal bird survey report July 2019, August 2019

Zealandia Halo Site: Rodent Monitoring Report, August 2019

Key Native Ecosystem Programme – Small Mammal Monitoring Report, May 2019

Wellington City forests: Rodent monitoring report, May 2019

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Akatarawa Forest Possum Monitoring Report, January 2019

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Small Mammal Monitoring Report, February 2019

Zealandia Halo Site: Rodent Monitoring Report, February 2019

Forest ecosystems of the Wellington Region

Bell and Herbert 2018 - Baring Head report

Bell 2018. Fensham-Cobden Road lizard survey

Bell 2018. Lowes Bush lizard survey

Miramar Peninsula bird monitoring report

2017-2018 Flood protection river bird surveys summary report

Kāpiti wetland fish surveying 2017 report

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Small Mammal Monitoring Report, November 2018

Wetland Health SoE Monitoring Programme Annual Data Report 2017/18

Wellington City forests: Rodent monitoring report - November 2018

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Wainuiomata/Orongorongo Possum monitoring report, November 2018

Terrestrial Ecology SoE Monitoring Programme Annual Data Report 2017/18

Key Native Ecosystem Programme - Small Mammal Monitoring Report, August 2018

Annual wetland SOE monitoring report 2016-2017

State and trends in the diversity, abundance and distribution of birds in Upper Hutt City - May 2018

State and trends in the diversity, abundance and distribution of birds in Wellington City - June 2018

Spotless Crake Survey Pauatahanui Inlet Reserves Baseline Data - 2016

Australasian Bittern (Matuku) and Spotless Crake (Puweto) Survey Eastern and Southern Wetlands Wairarapa Moana - Spring 2017

Wairarapa Rodent Survey - Summer 2017

Wainuiomata/Orongorongo Possum Monitoring Report - November 2016

Identification and prioritisation of high value terrestrial biodiversity sites for selection within the Key Native Ecosystems Programme in the Wellington region

Possum monitoring report – March 2016

A review of coastal and freshwater habitats of significance for indigenous birds in the Wellington region

Coastal and freshwater sites of significance for indigenous birds in the Wellington region

Baseline monitoring of the birds of the Ōtaki, Waikananae and Hutt Rivers, 2012-2015