Indicators of aquatic life are new measurements within the national policy for freshwater management. The research aims to improve the way farmers and the sector assess and report ecosystem health in pastoral streams. It also aims to highlight the positive effects of on-farm riparian planting on stream ecosystem health.
The aim is to develop better measures of stream ecological health that reflect community and farmer values around freshwater.
What we’ve learned so far
This project is relatively new, but farmers and catchment groups can now use state-of-the-art monitoring that detects fish, insects, microbes, aquatic plants, terrestrial plants and even birds from their genetic material being present in stream water. This genetic material (unique to each organism) is called environmental DNA (or eDNA for short). This method is useful to provide an overall measure of stream condition or ‘ecosystem health’.
Farmers in the Tararua catchment have found information from eDNA more informative than conventional water quality monitoring results.
The sampled eDNA gives scientists a snapshot of the health of the waterway and its species.
By mid-2023 DairyNZ will have a report completed presenting evidence that riparian planting and restoration is one of the most effective on-farm actions to help improve stream habitat and ecosystem health in agricultural catchments.
How will this help farmers
Farmers are stewards of the land and want to see healthy local streams. This project will provide farmers with a low cost, scientifically robust method to assess and monitor ecosystem health in their local streams and rivers. This project will provide a strong evidence base to inform council limit setting processes by providing robust information on the factors contributing to ecosystem health. It will also show how riparian planting and restoration can significantly improve stream health.
How are farmers involved
Currently, DairyNZ has farmers monitoring stream ecosystem health using eDNA in Manawatu-Whanganui, and the Pokaiwhenua catchment (Waikato).