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Waikato's ecosystems

Ecosystem variety: from coast to hills

Ecosystems are communities of living things that interact with each other and their physical environment. The many different ecosystems of the Waikato provide us with goods and services that we must manage sustainably for our future.

On this page: About ecosystems, diverse ecosystems, what lives in the Waikato

About ecosystems

Ecosystems are made up of:

  • animals, plants, fungi, bacteria and other micro-organisms (biodiversity)
  • soil, land, air and water (physical environment).

The photograph shows ecosystem variety from the sand dunes, lake and salt marsh to native forest on the hills.

Just as the human body 'system' relies on the circulation of blood and oxygen and the conversion of food to energy, an 'ecosystem' relies on the circulation of:

  • water
  • gases (oxygen, carbon dioxide)
  • nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus)
  • and energy (sunlight, food).

Ecosystems are our ‘natural capital’, providing humans with many:

  • goods (food, water, oxygen)
  • services (flood control, nutrient cycling)
  • experiences (recreation, aesthetics and spiritual values).

Diverse ecosystems

Ecosystems in the Waikato region result from our diverse landscapes, climate and the effects of human settlement and resource use. Today, the region is dominated by exotic ecosystems, that is ecosystems that are dominated by species introduced to New Zealand:

  • Rolling rye grass/ clover pastoral ecosystems in the north.
  • Extensive pine plantations on the Volcanic Plateau.

Our remaining native ecosystems include:

  • hill country forests and scrub
  • small remnants of lowland forest
  • wetlands
  • waterways
  • lakes
  • coasts
  • alpine areas.

Check out the map of land use in the Waikato that shows dominant ecosystem types.

Find out more about biodiversity in the Waikato region.

What lives in the Waikato

New Zealand has an unusually high number of species that are found naturally nowhere else in the world. Some of them occur only in certain places in New Zealand such as the giant cane rush (Sporadanthus ferrugineus) which is found only in Waikato wetlands.

More than 90 per cent of our freshwater fish and insects, 65 per cent of plants and 57 per cent of land birds are found nowhere else in the world. Many are endangered. In addition, some 6,000 exotic species have ‘escaped’ or been released into the countryside.

The table below shows the status of a range of species found in the Waikato region (not including marine species).

Species typesIndigenous1Exotic1Threatened2Comment
Mammals 2 17 2 There are 2 land based native mammals the short-tailed and long-tailed bats. Exotic species include deer, rats, cats, pigs, goats, mustelids and possums. Excludes farmed animals and marine mammals for example dolphins and seals.
Birds 124 36 36 Native birds comprise 75 estuarine and seabirds, 20 wetland birds, 29 forest and scrub species.
Reptiles 19 0 7 Tuatara, skinks, geckos (excludes marine turtles and sea snakes which are occasional visitors to New Zealand waters).
Amphibians 2 3 2 All are frogs.
Invertebrates unknown unknown >4 Includes the Mahoenui giant weta, the Mercury Islands tusked weta, and the Moehau stag beetle.
Plants >9003 >6604 >40 Estimate for higher plants only. Excludes mosses, liverworts and algae.
Freshwater Fish 19 10 7 For example eels and Inanga (whitebait).
Excludes estuarine fish, which migrate into rivers, for example mullet, flounder.
Total >1,066 >726 >98 > indicates minimum estimates.


  1. Jorgensen, M. 1992: Waikato Conservancy. Its Resources and Conservation Issues. Waikato Conservancy Management Planning Series No. 1. Department of Conservation, Hamilton.
  2. Department of Conservation. 1996: Rare, threatened, or endangered species present within the Waikato Conservancy. In Waikato Conservation Management Strategy. Department of Conservation, Hamilton. 203-205.
  3. Clarkson, B. Plant Ecologist, Email 17 August 1998, Landcare Research, Hamilton.
  4. Denyer, K. 1998. Higher Plants in the Waikato region. Native and Adventive Species Lists from Data Supplied by Auckland Museum Herbarium. Environment Waikato Internal Series IS98/16. Environment Waikato, Hamilton.