Intractable: species in New Zealand that continue to decline despite conservation efforts

My colleagues and I recently published an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand about the intractables; species that continue to decline despite conservation action.

The lovely seabird Toanui/flesh-footed shearwater featured among the intractables. Toanui feeds mainly on squid and fish and the New Zealand colonies of the species represent 16 % of the global population. Since the 1930s, at least four New Zealand colonies have Screen Shot 2019-05-20 at 13.38.44vanished. Rats may be to blame, however, even on rat-free islands the population is decreasing. It is likely that the birds suffer from high levels of mortality from fisheries bycatch, as well as plastic pollution, which has been found in the digestive tracts of birds and chicks. In New Zealand the birds have been a low priority for conservation funding, however, predictions are the local population will be halved by 2050.

Other examples of intractables include the Māui dolphin, Pīngao, kākahi, forest ringlet butterfly, hihi, and the grand and Otago Skinks. We argued that some of these species are headed for extinction if no additional actions are taken. We may be leaders in conservation in Aotearoa New Zealand, but that doesn’t mean we can rest on our laurels.

Our article featured in the New Zealand media at the Newsroom, and Stuff.


Global biodiversity loss is accelerating at an alarming rate. While considerable effort and resources have gone into conservation management for many threatened species in New Zealand (NZ), some species are still ‘losing the battle’ despite much effort, and others have been ignored altogether. Here, we present seven case studies to illustrate the breadth of complex, often ambiguous, threats faced by taxa in NZ. These threats originate from the effects of agriculture and harvesting, irreversible habitat modification and loss, impediments to connectivity, disruption of parasite–host relationships, introduced species and susceptibility to disease, and are further exacerbated by complexities of political and legal inertia, low prioritisation and limited conservation funding. We outline the conservation challenges and identify advances needed to meet NZ’s long-term conservation goals. The next 30 years of conservation require new tools in order to protect especially those ‘intractable’ species that have thus far defied efforts to ensure their survival.

Read the full article.


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