The New Zealand book of life

01:21, May 18 2012
Varroa destructor
Varroa destructor.
Chernetid with eggs
Chernetid with eggs.
Actinaria, yellow rim.
Pseudocyphellaria colensoi.

New Zealand is the first country in the world to catalogue its entire known living and fossil life from 530 million years ago to today.

The three-volume work - New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity - offers a first full review of the country's entire known species of animals, plants, fungi and microorganisms - more than 56,200 living and 14,700 fossil species covering all environments.

The catalogue, led by NIWA's Dennis Gordon, was an international effort that took a decade to complete.

"Prior to this, New Zealand had a vast reservoir of undiscovered and unrecorded species so back in 1997, when I was project leader for marine taxonomy, I thought what I might do is review what we know about our marine life, and show the benefits of doing that," Gordon said.

The project grew from that point and Gordon brought all species into one work.

"Everybody can see what we have and we can use that information in all sorts of ways. Before the inventory, the species names were scattered throughout the scientific literature," he said.

Worldwide about 1.8 million species of life have so far been described. In New Zealand, we have nearly half the number of marine species that were in the European region, even though Europe's marine area was five and a half times larger than New Zealand's Exclusive Economic Zone.

"This shows just how rich our marine life is, even though it hasn't all been discovered yet," he said.

Gordon's inventory was part with the Catalogue of Life, a global scientific project that aimed to record all named species on Earth in one online list.

The research was also done to support New Zealand conservation, biotechnology, ecosystem understanding, biosecurity, and sustainable ecosystem management.

The inventory would be launched this week at Te Papa in Wellington. To mark the release of the final volume, publisher Canterbury University Press was releasing the three books as a boxed set, presented in a specially designed slipcase.

Gordon was hoping his work would reach New Zealand classrooms.

"I would really love to see students pick up one of these volumes and say 'Wow, I didn't know we had this in New Zealand', and for that to feed an interest, he said.

* The New Zealand Inventory of Biodiversity (boxed set containing three volumes), $180, is available from Canterbury University.