Natural history features of the high-country and drylands of the South Island, New Zealand

  • William G Lee University of Auckland


The high-country and dryland zone of the South Island of New Zealand includes the Southern Alps
and eastern mountains and basins. Formed by post-Pliocene tectonic, glacial and alluvial processes, these
areas contain a range of landforms across extreme climatic gradients. Diverse habitats support plants
and animals which have a distinctive and long natural history. New Zealand’s short (c. 700 years) history
of human land use has been highly disruptive for indigenous biodiversity. We have misunderstood the
eco-evolutionary vulnerabilities of the native biota, the extent of environmental limits, and the impacts of
introduced weeds and pests. Recent large-scale capture of water and addition of nutrients for agriculture are
excluding indigenous biodiversity in many ecosystems. Predicted climate change and competition for water
resources will exacerbate agricultural impacts, but the remaining indigenous biodiversity can be resilient if
representative areas are protected.


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Vol 80 (2018)