The world is facing a global biodiversity crisis. Despite setting aside numerous protected areas and instituting broader conservation measures, there are still long-term declines in the number, distribution and abundance of species worldwide.

These declines include species that provide economically important ecological services, such as pollination. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) noted marked declines in populations of wild pollinators in northwest Europe and North America. Moreover, despite an increase in the number of managed commercial honeybee hives globally over the past 50 years, honeybee populations have declined in many European countries and North America. The spread of varroa mite, colony collapse disorder and, more recently, the increasingly widespread use of neonicotinoids and other agricultural pesticides, are all implicated in these losses.

The declines have been recorded also in nature reserves, the very places one would expect species to be protected. In 2017, researchers in Germany reported a more than 75 per cent decline in total flying insect biomass in protected areas over 27 years. In Britain, a third of wild pollinator species decreased over the period 1980-2013, whereas only 10 per cent increased. The rest showed no obvious trend. A recent global review of 73 studies of changes in insect populations concluded that 40 per cent of species could become extinct in coming decades.

Substantial declines are being reported for many populations of other animal groups globally. In New Zealand, the recent report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Taonga of an island nation: Saving New Zealand's Birds, reported that four-fifths of New Zealand's native birds were in trouble, with a third being seriously so. This assessment was based largely on an analysis of changes in bird distribution as recorded in two atlases of bird distribution in New Zealand covering the periods 1969-1979 and 1999-2004, published by the Ornithological Society of New Zealand (now Birds New Zealand). The atlases were produced from information provided by thousands of New Zealanders. Inputs from citizen scientists worldwide underpin many similar assessments of long-term trends.

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Effective conservation needs good data, not only on the status of species and what factors might be affecting them, but also on whether conservation actions are having positive outcomes. In New Zealand, the resources available to the Department of Conservation and the regional councils to gather such data are limited. Community groups and individuals, serving as citizen scientists, can be invaluable in covering some of these shortfalls.
In the next Nature Talks presentation, Peter Frost, regional representative for Birds New Zealand, will discuss ways that people can contribute to such citizen-science initiatives. He will also talk about a new bird atlas project, the third in the series mentioned above, designed to continue monitoring changes in our bird populations and assess whether current conservation efforts are having a positive effect.

The talk is on April 16 in the Davis Lecture Theatre, Whanganui Regional Museum, starting at 7.30pm.
Nature Talks is a series of monthly talks offered by the Whanganui Museum Botanical Group, the Whanganui branch of Forest & Bird, and Birds New Zealand (Whanganui Region), in conjunction with the Whanganui Regional Museum, on topics related to New Zealand's environment and natural history, and their conservation. The talks are normally held on the third Tuesday of each month. Entrance is free although a gold coin donation is always appreciated. For more information, contact Peter Frost, (06) 343 1648, or by email at birds.wanganui@osnz.org.nz