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Covering Climate Now: Growing concerns native ecosystems unable to survive due to climate change

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Locations nationwide could see ecosystems lost at the hand of climate change.

The Royal Society of New Zealand suggests more than half of the 50,000 species which call New Zealand home are found nowhere else in the world.

But, with the growing influence of climate change, there are concerns some native flora and fauna won't survive.

Auckland Council Senior Scientist Craig Bishop said, "You've got the physical effects of climate change so that's your increased storms, droughts, even something like a lack of frosts could be a big thing for some native ecosystems."

"Ecosystems aren't just like a machine, you don't just turn this dial a little here and know what's going to happen here," he said. "There's all these interspecific interactions going on and we just don't know how all those are going to play out."

He says East Auckland's Tahuna Torea Reserve is an example of somewhere already feeling the effects.

He told 1 NEWS he can count about eight different ecosystems in the space, describing ecosystems as collections of species in specific types of environmental conditions.

With the reserve only around two metres above sea level, Mr Bishop fears at least half of those there now, could be lost over time.

"There's certainly been recent reports about how much higher the tide is coming up and how it's eroding some of the shell barrier habitats," he said.

He explained the wetland ecosystem there is dependent on the salinity gradience, or the saltiness of the water.

"We're in a very low-lying situation so climate change with the rising sea level, storm surges through more storms and things like that are obviously going to potentially change that balance and physically remove some of the ecosystems around here.

"The water will come up and where all these plants grow, won't be there anymore."

Hiding in an area off display at Auckland Zoo, are two skink species whose homes have been taken in much the same way.

Thirty-four nationally critical cobble skink were rescued and taken into captivity in 2016 after their Westport home, which had already been at risk, was swamped with waves.

Team Leader of Ectotherms at Auckland Zoo, Don McFarlane said, "These guys used to live on the beach so when the tide comes in, something like a king tide - pushed on by a cyclone, in their case - your habitat is wiped out in one season."

"We were asked to collect up what remains and as far as we're aware there are none left in the wild."

Fifty-one equally endangered Chesterfield skink were moved to the zoo last year, after Cyclone Gita threatened their West Coast habitat too.

The population at Auckland Zoo is thought to be 25 per cent of the entire population.

Mr McFarlane said it's a reminder that when it comes to climate change, "New Zealand is a very far-flung country, in the middle of nowhere, but it's effected in the same way as anywhere else."

Source: 1 NEWS

This story is part of a week of special coverage of climate change from 1 NEWS. Stories in the series include a look at flooding, the situation in farming and ocean temperature rises.

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Reporter Laura James takes a look at ecosystems under threat as part of our Climate Now series. Source: 1 NEWS