Jonathon Barnsley

Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, University of Auckland

The Environment and (Terrestrial) Insects

Jonathan E. Barnsleya, John R. Rocheb, Juliet A. Gerrarda, Kenneth F.D. Hugheyc

aOffice of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, University of Auckland, Private Bag 92019, Victoria Street West, Auckland 1142, New Zealand
 bMinistry for Primary Industries, PO Box 2526, Wellington 6140, New Zealand
 cDepartment of Conservation, PO Box 10420, Wellington 6143, New Zealand

Insect population health has received significant media attention as part of a larger biodiversity crisis. A recent global assessment of biodiversity estimated that 10% of all insect species are threatened with extinction; however, it is not yet certain if reported declines in insect biodiversity are, truly, global. Three key questions need to be addressed in Aotearoa New Zealand: (1) what is the state and trend of insect populations; (2) if there are declining trends, what are their drivers; and (3) given the drivers, what can be done to rectify and reverse declines. Like other aspects of environmental monitoring, there are distinct gaps in our understanding of the condition of invertebrate communities which inhibits the answering of the key questions. This presentation will discuss our scoping work that explored what is known about the potential occurrence of mainly endemic terrestrial insect decline in Aotearoa New Zealand. The aim of the work was to inform strategic policy advice by identifying key themes of concern for insect population health, to capture expert perspectives on how to better understand this issue, and to recognise what key barriers to work exist. A mixed methods approach was used to frame the prevailing international narrative and explore its relevance in Aotearoa New Zealand through the analysis of threat classifications, key informant interviews, an expert panel, and targeted engagement and input from Māori. Overall, we heard that there are insufficient data to determine the overall state and trend of insect populations in Aotearoa New Zealand. However, there are existing databases and field studies which could be utilised for well-designed meta-analysis or resampling works to provide short-term insights. In the medium- to long-term, more detailed contemporary research consistent with the goals of the Biodiversity Strategy is required to fully document New Zealand’s invertebrate fauna and to monitor key elements. This work needs to be considered also within the context of a Te Ao Māori frame, including a commitment to co-design and co-implementation. An accessible summary can be found on the PMCSA website:


  • Braby, M, 2019. Are insects and other invertebrates in decline in Australia?. Austral Entomology, 58, 471-477.
  • IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), 2019. Summary for Policy Makers.
  • PCE (Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment), 2019, Focusing Aotearoa New Zealand’s environmental reporting system