Geoff Hicks, DOC's Chief Scientist talks about the National Science Challenges. He explains how the New Zealand biological heritage challenge in particular, can help DOC's science.

Date:  30 October 2014

By Fleur Templeton, Senior Communications Advisor

Geoff Hicks, the Chief Scientist here at DOC, talks about the National Science Challenges. He explains how the recently announced New Zealand biological heritage challenge in particular, can help DOC's science.

Seeking new solutions

New Zealand’s largest ever pest-control programme Battle for Our Birds is well underway. DOC's science has shown that if we do not act now to curb high rodent and stoat numbers in a beech mast year, our kiwi and other species may not exist in the wild for our grandchildren.

Radio tracking bats at Knobs Flat. Photo © Sabine Bernert.
Radio tracking bats – one of our native species at risk from a predator plague

But what if someday we could find tools and techniques that take us beyond 1080? Is it possible?

That’s the kind of question that may be solved by the recently announced New Zealand biological heritage challenge, says Chief Scientist Geoff Hicks.

“The broad reach of the challenge will increase our science effort to find new ways to deal with pests and save our vulnerable native animals, plants, and ecosystems.

“The leverage we gain from being involved in this challenge will boost our own science – it’s perhaps one of the best things for DOC’s science in a long time.

"We’ll be able to contribute to an enormous amount of research collaborating with a range of agencies to address these complex issues,” Geoff says.

What are the science challenges?

The National Science Challenges were set up to address complex problems facing New Zealand. The ten challenges are the result of The Great NZ Science Project.

They promote cooperation, encouraging scientists across a range of organisations and science disciplines, to come together and work towards a common goal.

“Most of the big issues this century will need to be addressed by evidence-based science along with social and behavioural change. DOC (and all New Zealand) can’t afford to lose sight of the importance of evidence-based data and solid science,” Geoff says.

North Island kokako. Image: David Cook Wildlife Photography.
New Zealand’s biological heritage challenge focuses on protecting and managing our diversity.
Image: North Island kokako.

Environment is high priority

“It’s revealing that New Zealanders identified the threat to the environment from small introduced mammalian pests such as rats and stoats as one of New Zealands most pressing science issues,” Geoff noted.

While the biological heritage challenge is the most important to DOC, we expect to also be involved in other challenges, such as 'The deep south', with our subantarctic work, 'Sustainable seas', with our marine work, 'Resilience to nature's challenges', and potentially to the 'Our land and water' challenge.

Other issues of real concern to New Zealanders include child obesity, better food, healthier lives, aging well, land and water, and the resilience of our cities to natural hazards such as earthquakes.

Many of these issues are directly related to our overall sense of wellbeing, something DOC has identified as a key outcome of better conservation.

DOC will also be involved in the Sustainable Seas challenge.
DOC will also be involved in the Sustainable Seas challenge. Photos: Marine quadrant survey in Fiordland Marine Area (left) and a diver at Poor Knights Marine Reserve © Vincent Zintzen (right).

Next steps

After contributing to proposals, workshops and meetings, DOC staff are now involved in workshops on the three biological heritage research programmes:

  • Real time biological heritage assessment will seek new techniques such as molecular or smart sensors to improve how we assess our biodiversity and biosecurity, and analyse and model the data.
  • Reducing risks and threats across landscapes will combine new approaches to identify and prioritise biosecurity risk, and develop technologies for new strategies for managing pests and weeds across large scales – taking us beyond things like 1080.
  • Sustaining natural capital through resilient ecosystems is about sustaining the economic benefits of nature, by first establishing the state of our ecosystems, and building resilience into them.

These programmes are closely aligned with DOC's own research themes.

All three research programmes will use citizen science approaches, encouraging the public to engage with and contribute to the research.

For more about the National Science Challenges go to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment website.

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