New Zealand Temperate Forests | WWF

New Zealand Temperate Forests

Temperate rainforest at dawn in Kahikatea forest, South Island, New Zealand.
© WWF / Edward PARKER

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 7 terrestrial ecoregions: Richmond temperate forests; Nelson Coast temperate forests; Westland temperate forests; Southland temperate forests; Northland temperate forests; Fiordland temperate forests; and Northland temperate kauri forests.

The temperate forests of the South Island of New Zealand are some of the largest contiguous areas of native vegetation in the country and are 1 of only 5 major temperate rainforests in the world.

Those of the west coast, which include a world heritage site and 5 national parks, form the largest nature conservancy in New Zealand. It includes 1 of only 3 major southern beech forests (Nothofagus sp.) in the world. Abel Tasman National Park is known for its New Zealand fur seal rookeries and little blue penguin populations, while Farewell Spit, a classic sandspit, attracts more than 80 species of birds.

Northland temperate forests are also known as the Volcanic Plateau. This is an untamed and stunning area filled with volcanoes, domes, high lava plateaus, and lake-filled calderas (craters formed by volcanic explosions).

170,000 sq. km (65,500 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Temperate Broadleaf and Mixed Forests

Geographic Location:
Southern island of New Zealand

Conservation Status:

Local Species
Many unusual plant and animals occur here including Speargrasses (Aciphyllas spp.), Pigeonwood (Hedycarya arborea), the flightless Takahe (Porphyrio mantelli), Fiordland crested penguin (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus), and cold-adapted Kea parrot (Nestor notabilis).

Some interesting plants grow among the Richmond temperate forests, including 2 unusual orchids. The carnivorous greenhooded orchid has a hinged lid that propels unsuspecting insects into its hood. The potato orchid does not need sunlight – it has no leaves but parasitically obtains its nutrients from tree roots using fungal threads. Stephens Islands, located in the Cook Strait, are an internationally important wildlife sanctuary. The islands contain the country’s largest tuatara population, estimated to be 30,000.

Nelson Coast temperate forests harbor an impressive variety of plants, with more than 40 endemic plant groups, including forget-me-nots and plants that have adapted to growing on marble and limestone substrates.

More than 700 plants are endemic to the Fiordland temperate forests. Also, more than 3,000 insect species have been found here, with 10% endemic to the area. More than 100 species of alpine moth can be seen fluttering through the mountains.

Featured Species

Takahe (Notornis mantelli), New Zealand.
Takahe (Porphyrio mantelli)

An adult takahe weighs up to 3 kg and stands up to 50 cm tall, about the size of a chicken. As is typical of most of the flightless birds, it has short stout but strong (red) legs. The takahe's impressive red beak is quite solid. It has small wings that are only used for display. They can still fly, but very poorly and only for short distances, normally as a means of escape. In the Fiordland native habitat, curled, mid-ribbed and broad-leaved snow tussock grasses provide food and shelter for takahe.

Nesting pairs build a raised ground nest of snow tussock grasses in October after the snow has melted. 80% of the 1-3 eggs laid each year hatch after 30 days of incubation. Chicks are fed by both parents for 3 months. Only 1 chick will normally survive the first winter.

Takahe is now protected in the wilderness of Fiordland National Park, which is New Zealand's largest national park, and a World Heritage area. It is listed as endangered by IUCN.

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Threats include logging, burning, invasive species introductions, and tourism. Raising sheep for wool is the biggest land use in Richmond temperate forests, and much of the land has been converted to pasture.

New Zealand’s native species evolved for 80 million years in the absence of mammalian predators after splitting off from the supercontinent Gondwana. As a result, many endemic birds are flightless and completely defenseless against humans and the predatory animals that came with them. Tuatara populations have decreased greatly since the introduction of Polynesian rats and are now only found on scattered, predator free, offshore islands.
WWF’s work
WWF-New Zealand has been working with other national environmental groups and industry on international certification for forests. Currently the focus of action is at national and international levels.

WWF is working towards developing a national standard for certification of plantation forests under the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC certification should result in improved biodiversity management in the plantation forests and better management of stream health. Internationally, WWF is working to provide solutions to the threats facing the world's forests which could potentially undermine forest conservation.

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