Returning social-ecological resilience to gumland ecosystems

Gumlands are a highly threatened ecosystem type limited to the far north of Aotearoa-New Zealand.

Gumlands are a highly threatened ecosystem type limited to the far north of Aotearoa-New Zealand.  They are rich in biodiversity and valued by Māori and pākehā for the ecosystem services they provide (e.g., high-value mānuka honey, kauri gum).  Gumlands are a wetland-shrubland community that grows on nutrient-poor and acidic soils. Gumlands are enigmatic.  They are high in biodiversity value, but low in endemism.  They probably expanded in area due to the fire activity that accompanied human arrival, but are now threatened by fire alongside other changes initiated by intensive exploitation by Europeans for kauri gum and ongoing land-use and climate change.

Fundamental to a Māori worldview is the understanding that all things are interconnected, including people. A social-ecological approach to ecosystem research is consistent with this understanding, and allows us to generate outputs that may be applied within Mātauranga Māori. The Ahipara Plateau ( is one of the best remaining examples of a gumland ecosystem. Part of the Plateau is managed by whānau from Te Rarawa as mana whenua and part by DOC (Figure 1 a-c). Mana whenua are seeking to re-establish their connections to whenua, including establishing papa kainga on the Plateau (Figure 1d).  The PhD this George Mason Centre is supporting will focus on developing socio-ecological models to explore the benefits and risks associated with these activities and to identify interventions that support the aspirations of mana whenua including  enhancing biodiversity. The project is underpinned by strong links with mana whenua through iwi (Te Rarawa) and the Department of Conservation (DOC; collaborators Jamie Stavert and Dion Pou).



Figure 1 – The gumlands of the Ahipara Plateau, (a) typical gumland vegetation (looking north across the Plateau), (b) recently burned gumland, (c) burned gumland (kānuka) on the north-eastern edge of the plateau, and (d) area recently cleared for papakainga by Te Rarawa.


About the researchers

Professor George Perry, Faculty of Science

Dr Karen Fisher, Faculty of Science

Dion Pou

Jamie Stavert