Diversity on our doorstep

Posted by Darren Ward @nzhymenoptera

New Zealand is a weird place for biodiversity. When discussed, perhaps most often mentioned is the ‘high degree of endemism’. This is the proportion of species found only in NZ and nowhere else in the world. Overall, about 90% of insect species in NZ are endemic. Along with endemism, the “total number of estimated species”, or the “number of undescribed species” are also often mentioned. An estimated 20,000 invertebrate species live in New Zealand and about 50% are undescribed.

But what is almost never mentioned is the number of undescribed species that are literally at your doorstep. You don’t have to go to remote field locations to find new species. Even in Auckland, NZ’s biggest city, there is a massive number of ‘undescribed’ and ‘unknown’ species.

Kuschel (1990) perhaps first bought this to our attention with his long running survey during the 1970s-1980s, literally in his backyard. In the Auckland suburb of Lynfield, he collected 130 species of beetles that were undescribed. In total >700 endemic beetle species were found.

Recently, we have been studying the diversity of parasitoid wasps in the Waitakere ranges, a large forest on the doorstep of Auckland city. Our study discovered 136 species of parasitoid wasps from ten locations (Kendall & Ward 2016). 80% of them are undescribed.

Just last week, a new species of parasitoid wasp, Synopeas motuhoropapense Buhl 2016, was described from Motuhoropapa Island (one of the small islands in the Noises Island group in the Hauraki Gulf). It was described along with 14 other species of micro wasps (<2mm in length) from around New Zealand. What is remarkable is that these 15 new species were described from <100 specimens in total, that’s a new species for every ~6 specimens.

Such biodiversity projects are an important part of understanding how the world works, but also give a sense of wonder about how we live with a massive diversity of weird and wonderful little critters.


Darren Ward is an entomologist in the New Zealand Arthropod Collection at Landcare Research, and a senior lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland.

Buhl PN. 2016. Keys to species of Ceratacis and Synopeas from New Zealand, with the description of new species (Hymenoptera: Platygastridae), International Journal of Environmental Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00207233.2016.1205916

Kendall L, Ward DF. 2016. Habitat determinants of the taxonomic and functional diversity of parasitoid wasps. Biodiversity & Conservation. 25(10), 1955-1972i

Kuschel, G. 1990. Beetles in a suburban environment: a New Zealand case study. Auckland: DSIR Report No3.

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