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What is biodiversity and why is it important?

What is biodiversity and why is it important?

Updated 16 July 2020 3:48pm


The term ‘biodiversity’ describes the sum and variation of all living things on land, water and out at sea.

The New Zealand Biodiversity Strategy defines biodiversity as:

Biological diversity, or “biodiversity” for short, describes the variety of all biological life — plants, animals, fungi, and microorganisms — the genes they contain and the ecosystems on land or in water where they live. It is the diversity of life on earth.

Indigenous biodiversity refers to the plants and animals that are native to New Zealand.

Why is biodiversity important?

Many of our plants and animals are endemic to New Zealand, which means they are found nowhere else.  Our unique biodiversity has helped shape New Zealand’s ‘kiwi’ identity.  Our ecosystems are beautiful and they provide opportunities for recreational activities like tramping, camping, kayaking and photography. 

Healthy ecosystems and the organisms within them are vital for our everyday life. They recycle and protect our water, soil and nutrient resources.  They provide food, medicinal properties and a range of other resources.  These are the goods and services which we get for ‘free’.  Healthy ecosystems with greater diversity can often better withstand and recover from a variety of disasters and the natural processes and organisms are naturally more resilient.  In New Zealand our ecosystems draw visitors from around the world and the land provides a strong agricultural resource, both of which help the New Zealand economy.

Healthy ecosystems are of intrinsic importance for many New Zealanders.  Māori believe all components of ecosystems, both living and non-living, possess the spiritual qualities of tapu, mauri, mana, and wairua. People are the kaitiaki (guardians) of these ecosystems and have a responsibility to protect and enhance them. This responsibility of people to other living things is expressed in the concept of kaitiakitanga — or guardianship.  


Sunset at Hutt Gorge