Conservation of New Zealand’s tussock grassland moth fauna

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  • -1 Conservation of New Zealand’s tussock grassland moth fauna Brian H. Patrick Otago Museum, Box 6202, Dunedin, New Zealand (e-mail: brian.patrick@otagomuseum.govt.nz) Recieved 10 April 2004; accepted in revised form 20 May 2004 Key words: Conservation Park, Lepidoptera, Pastoral Lease, Tenure Review, Threatened species Abstract New Zealand has a relatively rich moth fauna associated with tussock grasslands, reflecting the historic importance of plant communities containing native grasses in the New Zealand landscape. Extensive grassland communities were most common in the eastern and central regions of New Zealand’s South Island where what now remains of these communities is contained within more than 350 Pastoral Leases managed for pastoral farming. Because these various grassland communities are distributed from coastal areas to the limit of vegetation on mountains there has been an uneven human impact. Grasslands at sea- level (including those on sand dunes and alluvial plains) have almost been eliminated while those in montane valleys have until now escaped intensive development. Alpine grasslands, like those of montane areas are now much less woody as a result of both Polynesian and more recent burning. From the late 1970s, based on public concern that continuing development was eliminating the natural landscapes and conservation values of the distinctive tussock grasslands of the South Island, a concerted programme of identification of the broad conservation values of the remaining grassland dominated regions was initiated. Implementation of the recommendations in the resulting published reports relating to priority areas for conservation and the subsequent full-scale review of Pastoral Leases has resulted in the formation of large grassland Conservation Parks and the reservation of a multitude of smaller areas, based on a suite of recreation, landscape and biological values. This important ongoing Tenure Review process has important implications for the conservation of tussock grassland biota including numerous native moths and their habitats. Introduction New Zealand’s natural tussock grasslands and their biota have evolved in the absence of grazing mammals but where flightless birds and insects were the consumers. This unusual situation has led to a unique set of problems and issues associated with modification followed by exploitation of these grasslands by first Polynesian then European settlers. In the New Zealand context, I define tussock grasslands as ‘all natural or semi-natural open ecosystems where native grasses, sedges or bare ground dominate’. This includes saline areas and other areas of bare ground (both inland and coastal), coastal sand dunes, coastal short tussock grasslands and shrublands, braided riverbeds, alluvial plains and valley floor ecosystems of diminutive grasses (2–10 cm high), short tussock (10–40 cm high), tall tussock (40–100 cm high), bare ground, herbfield, rocks and shrubland, montane, and alpine and high alpine areas of short and tall tussock mixed with herbfield, bare rock and shrubland. Journal of Insect Conservation 8: 199–208, 2004. � 2004 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands. 199
  • Dominant native genera of New Zealand grasses in terms of species richness are Agrostis, Chiono- chloa, Cortaderia, Deschampsia, Dichelachne, Ely- mus, Festuca, Hierochloe, Lachnagrostis, Poa, Rytidosperma, and Trisetum but in terms of vege- tative cover Chionochloa, Festuca, Poa, Spinifex and Rytidosperma are the most important. New Zealand’s tussock grassland history The vegetation of pre-human New Zealand con- sisted of a mosaic of grassland, wetland, shrubland and forest. Natural tussock grassland was found on coastal dune, lowland flood-plain, montane valley floor and hill-slope below and above natural tree-line. Natural grassland was especially pre- valent in the eastern and central South Island mixed with shrubland, wetland, saline areas, herbfield and rocky areas. Here, the dynamic nature of New Zealand’s tectonic history drove this vegetation patterning with large braided rivers moving huge quantities of rock from the Southern Alps in the west and building up rocky flood- plains. Frequent floods, windthrow (Grant 1996), cold air flow from the mountains, frosts, salty, water-logged and skeletal soils maintained this suite of non-forest communities. Polynesian settlement and deliberate fires from about 1200 CE resulted in a huge reduction in the woody component of these grassland domi- nated areas of the eastern and central South Island and a subsequent expansion of grassland/ herbfield in lowland and montane areas (Mark et al. 2003). European settlement since the early 1800s, but especially since the 1850s continued the reduction of woody vegetation as grasslands were burned regularly to promote palatability and access for stock. Other major impacts have been a large reduction in the extent of wetlands and a general drying out of all communities, replacement of native grasslands with managed exotic pasture and forestry, the spread of exotic weeds at the expense of overall natural plant diversity (White 1991). The truncation or replacement of all types of natural communities from coastal dune and estuarine to montane saline and grassland has been associated with infrastructure, utilities and housing wrought by spread of human population and human development. Because of the former greater extent both in terms of area and altitude, the grasslands of the eastern and central South Island were significantly more exploited by European pastoralists than those of either Stewart or North Islands of New Zealand. The South Island’s tussock grassland commu- nities on freehold land were mostly destroyed, as on the Canterbury and Waimea Plains. Those on Crown land fared considerably better. The majority of these native grasslands on Crown land were or are contained within about 350 Pastoral Leases extending from Marlborough to South- land. In extent these leases covered about 10% of New Zealand or 2.2 million hectares (Mark et al. 2003). From the late 1970s with increasing reali- sation of their recreational, biological and land- scape values, together with the uneven representation of protection of many distinctive ecosystems nationwide lead to the PNAP (Pro- tection of Natural Areas Programme). The PNAP resulted in many published reports and assess- ments of them containing biological information including botanical and zoological data covering native grassland moths (e.g. Dickinson et al. 1998). The reports listed RAPs (Recommended Areas for Protection) that the Crown had begun imple- menting when the whole process was subsumed within Tenure Review because of the Crown’s increasing cost of administration of the 350 Pas- toral Leases. Tenure Review, under 1998 legisla- tion (Crown Pastoral Land Act) is the partitioning of these large leases into farm land that is free- holded to the farmer and land with ‘high inherent’ value that is transferred to the Department of Conservation and effectively given full protection. The resulting process has moved fast with about half the Pastoral Leases now in the Tenure Review and being surveyed for landscape, biological and historic values. Once the areas of high inherent value are identified an assessment is carried out by the Department of Conservation and the Crown’s Pastoral Lease agents to split the lease into land available to be freeholded and land recommended to be retained by the Crown as reserve. This pro- cess is eventually open to public comment, but there is widespread concern that the public are not given feedback on the fate of these submissions. Information on the ‘high inherent’ conservation values for the Tenure Review process is derived from specially designed field survey, data from the 200
  • earlier PNAP (Protected Natural Areas Pro- gramme) or from published accounts of biological values (e.g. Barratt and Patrick 1987; Mark et al. 1989; Dickinson et al. 1998) On the positive side the process has lead to the creation of significant tussock grassland reserves, mostly at higher altitude such as Te Papanui Conservation Park at 21,000 ha on the Lammer- moor Range in eastern Otago and the recent whole property purchase of Birchwood Station at 24,000 ha in Northwestern Otago. Te Papanui Conservation Park is a magnificent example of a tall tussock grassland dominated landscape inter- spersed with moss-bogs, tarns and rich herbfield with an unmatched endemic moth fauna (Patrick et al. 1993). Birchwood Station, occupies the Ahuriri Valley with glacier covered peaks rising to over 2000 m. It is an outstanding high country area which encapsulates valley-floor wetlands and grasslands, beech forest, alpine grassland and high-alpine fellfield. This purchase by the Crown together with contiguous Crown lands obtained through Tenure Review have resulted in a 83,000 ha potential Conservation Park between Lake Ohau and the Hunter River. Already Tenure Review has dramatically al- tered the face of conservation in the eastern South Island with myriad protected areas dotting the montane to high-alpine areas where only a decade ago little was protected. The down-side is that in the separation of farmland and conser- vation land the lower altitude formerly exten- sively grazed semi-natural areas are generally freeholded (Mark et al. 2003). Thus, there is a net loss of conservation values on the valley floors and lower hill country. It is therefore ironic that a process that has been mooted as the ‘saviour’ of the last remnants of the eastern South Island’s grasslands has so far had the opposite effect at lower altitude where competition for land is greatest. New Zealand’s grassland moth fauna New Zealand’s native butterfly and moth fauna totals about 1955 species based on my calculations of mainly described (Dugdale 1988), and new and undescribed species known to date. This total is about the mid-point of White’s (2002) estimate based on his exhaustive MacKenzie Basin study, if introduced species are ignored. This fauna is sig- nificant for its disharmonic representation of the world’s major superfamilies (Dugdale 1988) and for its high rate of endemism (94%). This high rate of endemism (McGuinness 2001) and an uneven representation of families compared to the rest of the world holds true for the entire New Zealand biota and is unmatched elsewhere. In terms of endemism, relative species richness and special features, New Zealand’s tussock grassland moth fauna is of global importance. New Zealand’s tussock grassland moth fauna has received increased attention since the late 1970s associated with PNAP, Tenure Review and general survey. There are published survey reports for many areas including Stewart Island where significant areas exist from sea-level to the low alpine zone (Patrick et al. 1989, 1992), Southland Patrick 1994a), Central Otago (Barratt and Pat- rick 1987; Patrick 1989; Patrick et al. 1993; Patrick 1994b), and Canterbury (Patrick 1992; White 2002). New Zealand has a relatively speciose grassland moth fauna across a diverse range of moth fami- lies. Reflecting New Zealand’s recent geological and climatic history including ice sheets and a high rate of tectonic uplift, the moth fauna of open tussock grasslands and associated vegetation is more speciose than that of forests. Table 1 high- lights the species richness of both the Geometridae and Hepialidae in open grassland dominated habitats compared to forested habitats. Interest- ingly, both families show an identical percentage of grassland species (74%). It is a diverse fauna in terms of species richness (1450 species), family representation, activity pattern, host choice and lifestyle. The main moth families represented numerically are Noctuidae, Geometridae, Cram- bidae, Gelechiidae, Tortricidae and Oecophoridae but with a significant percentage of numerically smaller families such as Glyphipterigidae, Hepial- idae, Arctiidae and Pterophoridae. Overall, the grassland moth fauna is distinct from that of forest with few species that are shared (Table 1). In my experience the richest sites for grassland moths are warm north-facing sites with varied soils from fertile, damp to skeletal, a variety of vege- tation heights and density from bare ground and exposed rock to tall native grassland with large herbs. The larger the percentage of exotic weeds, the lower the stature of the vegetation and drier 201
  • the community the less moth diversity will be present. Biogeographically the grassland moth fauna found above the treeline is closely related to that found below the treeline indicating that the rela- tively recent uplift of the South Island’s mountains has resulted in the uplift of whole non-forest communities (Patrick 1990). Only one speciose moth genus Gelophaula – 12 species (Tortricidae) is confined to the alpine zone, whereas many speciose and typically alpine genera such as Ichneutica – 12 species (Noctuidae), Notoreas – 38 species, Dasyuris – 15 species and Aponotoreas – 9 species (Geometridae) and Dioxycanus – 2 species (Hepialidae) all have coastal populations of otherwise alpine species or have allopatric species at or near sea-level (Patrick 1990). Dugdale (1975) commented that the New Zea- land alpine zone occupies about 20% of the country but supports about 40% of the moth fauna, highlighting the species richness of non- forest habitats. Individually each alpine area is surprisingly rich too. Studies in the Central Otago ranges above treeline regularly record in excess of 250 moth species with much regional endemism (Patrick et al. 1993). This species richness generally increases with increasing latitude in the South Is- land, reflecting the longer history of land surfaces in the southern half of the South Island. The high rate of regional endemism is a major feature of the New Zealand tussock grassland moth fauna. The highly regionalised distribution patterns result not only in a different mix of species in every region and differential species richness, but a tussock grassland moth fauna that is con- siderably more vulnerable to local extinction on isolated patches of habitat. Other features more pronounced in New Zea- land moths than other insect groups include diur- nal activity, flightlessness in groups that are usually fully winged, larger than normal body size and specialized larval feeding habits. It is not unusual for grassland moth species to be restricted to a single plant host species or group of closely related species within the same genus. Many of these characteristics make the New Zealand tussock grassland moth fauna particularly vulnerable to extinction. Flightlessness in the fe- male while improving fecundity has made certain species more vulnerable to predation from intro- duced birds and mammals, and severely reduced dispersal following local extinction in these spe- cies. Flightless females are particularly prevalent in the Geometridae, Arctiidae, Crambidae, Oeco- phoridae, Psychidae and Hepialidae but also present in the Plutellidae, Gelechiidae and Noc- tuidae. Large body size is often linked to flight- lessness in the female, but whether or not this correlation is present, it has made many species more vulnerable to predation from a range of introduced mammals and birds that they were not equipped to combat. Similarly, the specialized larval host-plant choices have in some cases lead to a reduction in range as the host suffers local extinction. Likewise, the naturally restricted dis- Figure 1. Notoreas new species is one of at least 93 diurnal larentiine moths in ten genera to be found in New Zealand’s tussock grasslands from the coast to the furthest reaches of vegetation on the high mountains. Most are naturally local in their distribution, but these restricted distributions have been further fragmented by human exploitation of their habitats. Table 1. Numbers of forest and grassland species of New Zealand Geometridae and Hepialidae. Data is based on Dugdale (1988, 1994)) and updated with undescribed species by the author Taxon Numbers of species Forest Grassland Both Total species GEOMETRIDAE Oenochrominae 2 19 1 22 Ennominae 32 12 6 50 Larentiinae 52 185 15 252 Sterrhinae 0 1 0 1 Total 86 217 22 325 Percentage 26 67 7 HEPIALIDAE Hepialinae 7 18 2 27 Percentage 26 67 7 202
  • tribution of many grassland moth species con- tributes to a highly distinctive regional moth fauna of the grasslands both above and below treeline. But this regionalisation has led to a suite of threatened moth species because of habitat reduction in the mainly lowland to montane zones and the relatively small natural distributions of many species. New Zealand’s tussock grassland moth fauna continues to surprise with the discovery of hitherto undiscovered new species. As recently as 1989, a new species of noctuid (subfamily Heliothinae) was discovered in Central Otago drylands where the larvae feed on a small inter-tussock herb (Matthews and Patrick 1998). This species is sig- nificant as the only specialist diurnal noctuid in New Zealand’s fauna and that it belongs to a newly described genus of Australasian moths that are typical of semi-arid areas. White (2002) in a major review of nocturnal tussock grassland spe- cies in montane to alpine areas of South Canter- bury and North Otago discovered 44 new moth species. A study of the moth fauna of a group of small-leaved shrubs in the genus Olearia that are often abundant in grasslands revealed a native moth fauna of 41 species of which 17 are confined to this host and remarkably eight species turned out to be new to science once reared (Patrick 2000b). More recently, further new diurnal moth species have been added to the grassland geome- trid genera Arctesthes (Von River) and Asaphodes (Mt Hutt) (B.H. Patrick unpublished data 2004). Conservation of New Zealand tussock grassland moth fauna Conservation evaluation of New Zealand’s tus- sock grassland moth fauna begins with survey takes shape through identification or systematics, and is fully exposed through biogeographical and ecological studies. This suite of studies should be underpinned by knowledge of the literature and from other sources pertaining to the species and ecosystems in question, and the identification and conservation of type localities of the moth species must be given a high priority. Once key areas for this moth fauna are pin- pointed management objectives must be devised based on site history, restoration objectives (if any) and species’ and their host’s needs. This proposed management must take into account the recent grazing history of the site that has nurtured the present moth diversity including incidence and intensity of both pest and managed grazing ani- mals. Other important factors of the site that must be taken into account for management are the soils, burning history, botany, other insect diver- sity and life history of the moths if known or understood. Kirby (1992) is an excellent reference in this regard. It is important that conservation plans take into account the protection of all stages of moth life cycles where particular needs are understood. Generally, sites that take in the largest array of possible habitat types including differential heights of the vegetation, bare ground and various degrees of dampness are best (as in Britain: Fry and Lonsdale 1991). In a major review of the conservation status of New Zealand’s butterfly and moth fauna Patrick and Dugdale (2000) list 114 species that are re- garded as ‘at risk’ of extinction. Of these, 69% live in non-forest habitats. However, despite much modification and reduction in habitat extent, few tussock grassland moths are known to be extinct despite the restricted distributions they exhibit and many specializations they show. This can be attributed to the resilience of the fauna generally and its ability to survive in remnants as small as roadsides. White (1991) recorded serious decline in moth abundance and species richness in montane grasslands of Canterbury over a 50- and 70-year period to the late 1980s. He attributed this to a spread of certain weedy introduced grasses and herbs that were now dominating large areas of tussock grassland. Fortunately although intro- duced plants have generally displaced native plants, in many cases native moths differentially feed on them, especially if they belong to native families or genera present in the high country tussock grasslands. Significantly, prior to Tenure Review, much of the habitat of grassland moths was Crown Land extensively managed for grazing. Until recently, such areas had escaped intensive land development and survived in a variety of conditions from near pristine to semi-natural. Many native insect species are severely restricted in distribution following habitat destruction (McGuinness 2001). Craw (1999) documents the extinction of a large moly- tine weevil from the formerly predominantly 203
  • grassland, shrubland, wetland covered Canterbury Plains of New Zealand’s South Island. The species relied solely on one species of large herb growing in tussock grassland for both larval and adult survival. Despite being mostly on Crown land, the grasslands and sedgelands of the New Zealand coast continue to decline. It has been estimated that sand dune habitat has declined by about 70%, due to a range of activities associated with humans since European settlement (Patrick 2002). Patrick (1998) highlights the plight of 12 mostly unde- scribed geometrids in the genus Notoreas that are coastal specialists and threatened with extinction. Tenure Review has led to a partitioning of conservation land from farmland resulting in the loss of semi-natural areas in low to mid altitudes as development particularly for activities such as grape-growing intensifies on now freehold land. Gains in terms of large protected areas in the higher altitudes and their being destocked and generally managed for conservation of flora and fauna is the other side of the coin. In the protec- tion of New Zealand’s remaining native tussock grassland habitat it is imperative that we are not too ‘precious’ about the botanical quality of the habitat. Native tussock grassland moths can be resilient and survive in habitats that are far from pristine and their larvae can often be found to feed on exotic plants (Patrick 1994b). The importance of semi-natural areas can not be stressed enough (McGuinness 2001). Some case studies of threatened grassland moths Xanthorhoe bulbulata (Geometridae: Larentiinae) Xanthorhoe bulbulata was recorded commonly from various open grassland habitats in the envi- rons of Invercargill, southern New Zealand be- tween 1890–1920 Patrick (2000a). He documents the demise of this colourful diurnal species that was formerly distributed from the middle of the North Island south to bottom of the South Island. Only two adults have been found over the past 50 years and little is known of its ecology or larval host. Listed by McGuinness (2001) as threatened, this species may already be extinct. However, de- tailed searching at low altitude in southern New Zealand early in the season or at montane sites late in the summer season may reveal refugia for this species. If rediscovered it is imperative that effort is put into determining its larval host, ecology and reason(s) for its demise. Paranotoreas fulva (Geometridae: Larentiinae) Paranotoreas fulva is a small diurnal species that is restricted to the most inland, dry and low stature vegetation areas of montane Otago and South Canterbury (Patrick 1989). The species was not found for about 46 years until rediscovered by the author in 1988 on saline areas of Central Otago. Now known from many such sites, it nevertheless is threatened with extinction because of the small percentage of saline soils remaining, their indi- vidual small size and the general ongoing losses of montane semi-natural grasslands in Central Otago and the Mackenzie Basin of South Canterbury. Seven newly protected areas contain populations of this species but key areas in terms of population size and habitat diversity for the species remain unprotected and must be secured if this species is to be retained. Asaphodes frivola (Geometridae: Larentiinae) Asaphodes frivola is confined to the coastal short tussock grasslands of southern Southland. This straw coloured species is known from just three localities, all of which are relatively narrow and fragmented. Despite being represented in reserves, the species is threatened simply because its narrow habitat is so dynamic and additionally because it has a short-winged female which greatly limits dispersal. The larvae are herb feeders amongst short tussock growing close to the estuary or sea. Adults emerge in late autumn during in April and May and can be locally abundant (Patrick 1994a). Pseudocoremia new species (Geometridae: Ennom- inae) This species is a recent discovery from grasslands and shrublands of Central Otago and the Mac- kenzie Basin (Patrick 2000b; White 2002) where its colourful larvae have been found feeding on small- leaved Olearia shrub species (Peat and Patrick 204
  • 1999, 2001). These montane shrubland/ grassland communities are particularly at risk as land development proceeds across inland areas of Otago and Canterbury. Fragmentation and local extinction of the host-plant are real threats for the species and Tenure Review has an important part to play in protecting key remaining areas across its range. The winged males contrast with the tiny winged flightless females further limiting the abil- ity of the species to repopulate areas from which it has been eliminated. Orocrambus sophistes (Crambidae: Crambinae) Orocrambus sophistes is a grey-winged nocturnal grassmoth that is found in inland areas of Otago and South Canterbury. Gaskin (1975) wrongly synonomised it with a significantly smaller species but ironically described its short-winged female as a new species in the same paper. Although still locally common, O. sophistes is threatened because of the ongoing degradation and elimination of its montane dryland grassland habitat dominated by Festuca grassland and Carex muellerii sedgeland (Peat and Patrick 1999). The species is also vul- nerable to local extinction because of the flight- lessness of its short-winged female which greatly reduces dispersal and hence recolonising of areas once locally eliminated. The fate of this species is intimately tied up with the results of Tenure Re- view as much of its remaining habitat in the Nevis Valley, upper Manuherikia Valley and Mackenzie Basin is Crown leasehold land with its fate yet to be decided. Orocrambus fugitivellus (Crambidae: Crambinae) The elegant diurnal grassmoth Orocrambus fugi- tivellus is confined to less than 1 ha of seasonally wet grassland in the eastern Mackenzie Basin, South Canterbury where it is locally abundant in late summer (Patrick and Dugdale 2000). The species has never been found anywhere else but is further threatened by the recent discovery of its flightless and extremely short-winged female. The type locality and entire habitat consists of a mix of native and exotic grasses and sedges. Elucidation of its host(s) and ecology are important as Tenure Review studies currently seek to protect this spe- cies entire population as it lies on Pastoral Lease land. A second Orocrambus species recently dis- covered in the Mackenzie Basin also appears to be endemic to a small area of degraded grassland slightly further south. Like O. fugitivellus the fe- male is flightless but this second species is larger and nocturnal with a flight period in autumn (White 2002; Peat and Patrick 2001). Figure 2. Orocrambus geminus belongs to one of the most speciose of grassland moth genera in New Zealand with 54 described and undescribed species. Different species are found in wet or dry habitats, coastal to nival zones, and short or tall tussock. The genus includes both diurnal and nocturnal species, and some species have flightless females. Figure 3. Aoraia macropis (hepialidae) breeds in alpine moss- bogs amongst tussock grassland in a small part of Central Otago. The female (pictured) is flightless and active by day particularly moist days or days when a front is approaching. The genus includes 13 described species of which six are alpine, diurnal species characteristically emerging in late summer and autumn. Other species breed in tussock grassland or forest or both. The genus includes some of New Zealand’s largest moths, many with short-winged females. 205
  • Australothis volatilis (Noctuidae: Heliothinae) The fast-flying Australothis volatilis (Matthews and Patrick 1998) is New Zealand’s only spe- cialist diurnal noctuid and only endemic member of this worldwide subfamily. Surprisingly, the species was discovered in 1989 and it is still known from just six dryland sites in Central Otago and South Canterbury where the native host Vittadinia australis grows. While two of these sites are protected, each is only a few hectares in extent and supports a small popula- tion of the larval host leaving them vulnerable to local extinction. The unprotected known sites are on freehold land that will require negotiation and/or funds to render them properly secure. On a positive note, this species with its Australian congenors has adapted to feeding on at least one introduced Australian Vittadinia, therefore giving its larvae more options as these weedy Austra- lians spread. Heloxycanus patricki (Hepialidae) Despite Heloxycanus patricki being a colourful, reasonably sized moth that is conspicuous in its wetland habitat, it was not discovered till 1979. Factors that led to this late discovery are its adult winter emergence, biennial emergence pattern (only odd numbered years) and being confined to very wet grasslands. These wetlands often consist of tall grasslands of Chionochloa rubra cuprea (copper tussock) with a sphagnum understorey. Although now known from about 40 sites, south of the Waitaki River in southern New Zealand from coastal moss bogs to alpine wetlands, the species is endangered because its main larval host sphagnum moss is in demand. The various sphagnum species at times command a premium price and are illegally harvested from reserves. The species has strongholds on Stewart Island, in the alpine zone of eastern parts of Fiordland National Park, in small reserves across the Southland Plains and in the large Seaward Moss Conservation area close to Invercargill at sea-level. Tenure Review in the Central Otago high-country should protect additional key populations as the species exhibits much morphological variation across its broad distribution. Discussion New Zealand’s tussock grasslands have undergone major changes in both extent and composition since humans arrived. Despite all these changes a distinctive, relatively species rich and globally important moth fauna is still present. This resilient fauna is an important component and focus of the Tenure Review process that is about identification, recognition and protection of natural values remaining in the South Island’s high country. Tussock grassland moths because of the high level of knowledge of them (e.g. Barratt and Patrick 1987) and their high species richness (e.g. Patrick et al. 1993) are commonly used as an indicator group for areas of high inherent value. Conservation of New Zealand’s special and distinctive tussock grassland moth fauna will re- quire much debate, strength and action in the face of competing demands. We possess a reasonable knowledge of its species richness, ecology and biogeography following three decades of intensive survey and research. Now it is timely to use this knowledge to secure the key habitats for this moth fauna in terms of biogeographic area, degree of threat, naturalness, reserve design and altitude. It is imperative that opportunities are seized to ade- quately represent this moth fauna. In so doing many other aspects of natural heritage such as landscapes, flora and recreation will be potentially protected also. Identifying key habitats is the only practical method of adequately protecting this di- verse moth fauna as a single species approach is impractical in terms of both time and financial resources (New 1998). The securing of the land and management by governmental agencies is the first step in real protection, but there are negative issues to be dealt with such as the perceived ‘locking-up’ of the land by sections of the community. But public owner- ship is not the only possible protection mechanism. Semi-natural areas in private ownership can be protected through a variety of covenants registered on the title. Gaining community support through advocacy and on-site interpretation is important, and if continued commercial exploitation of the site is necessary or unavoidable then further sup- port can be gained by publicising the key taxa that are being protected and the sustainable manage- ment of the site (New 1998). 206
  • Irrespective of the protective mechanism in- volved, all protected areas must have a stated aim and be the subject of management. This ongoing operational management must include identifica- tion and elimination of threats such as introduced weeds, human use and mammalian predators. Additionally monitoring of key moth species will be a useful guide to the success or otherwise of such operations, while ongoing research will often be necessary to fill in information gaps on life- histories and the ecological needs of the resident moth species. Where the information gaps are large, management needs and issues great, and time limited, research by management over limited parts of the habitat is justifiable and should be implemented to more rapidly solve such problems. Acknowledgements I thank Dr Tim New for the concept of this Special Issue and general encouragement with principles of the conservation of insects and their commu- nities. 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