The discovery of Aotearoa

Having evolved in isolation for millions of years, the ecology (organisms and their environment) of Aotearoa / New Zealand was unprepared for the arrival of humans. This had devastating consequences.

The impact of human settlement in Aotearoa / New Zealand

Māori discovered Aotearoa around AD 950 but the main wave of Māori settlers arrived from Polynesia between AD 1200 and AD 1300. They brought with them the first terrestrial predatory mammals, the kiore (Pacific rat) and kuri (dog).

Within a few hundred years, predation by kiore and kuri, along with human hunting, wiped out about 30 known bird species. This included all nine species of moa and many of the other large, meaty birds.

The loss of mature forest

During this same period large areas of the original forest cover, especially on the drier eastern sides of the main islands, were lost through fire. Some areas were accidentally burned. Some areas were intentionally burned to clear land for cultivation and villages and to make it easier to hunt certain game, such as burrowing seabirds.

Some of the cleared areas, if they were not repeatedly fired, regenerated into bracken and scrublands, providing habitat for some birds, reptiles and invertebrates. However, habitat for species that prefer mature forest was significantly reduced. The numbers of colonial seabirds and seals were also greatly depleted near populated coastal areas.

Expanding matauranga Māori

With the progressive extinction of many of the large birds through overharvesting, Māori increasingly concentrated on the marine and coastal environments for protein.

Over time, matauranga Māori (collective knowledge) of the natural capital of the Aotearoa environment deepened, and measures such as rāhui (a temporary closed season) were used to allow stocks of various resources to recover.

Today we look to Māori and their deep understanding of nature, formed over a thousand years of occupation, to guide the protection of species and restoration of ecosystems in Aotearoa.