Scientists reveal New Zealand’s prehistoric wildlife sanctuaries


Share post:

An international research team led by University of Otago scientists has documented prehistoric “sanctuary” regions where New Zealand seabirds survived early human hunting.

Scientists reveal New Zealand's prehistoric wildlife sanctuaries
Pied Stewart Island Shag/mapua (Leucocarbo chalconotus) standing on sand, 
Papanui Inlet, Otago Peninsula [Credit: Copyright Philip Griffen]

The researchers used ancient-DNA analysis, radiocarbon dating and computational modelling to reconstruct population histories for prehistoric seabirds around coastal New Zealand.

Dr Nic Rawlence, who carried out the genetic study, says the team found a very distinctive pattern, where shag/mapua (Leucocarbo chalconotus) populations from the Stewart Island region were little affected by human hunting, but mainland populations were rapidly decimated.

“There was a loss of more than 99% of their population size within 100 years of human arrival. These once heavily-hunted mainland populations now occupy only a fraction of their prehistoric range, having never really recovered,” Dr Rawlence says.

The study suggests that the mainland populations survived on just a few rocky islands off the South Island’s east coast.

Scientists reveal New Zealand's prehistoric wildlife sanctuaries

“By comparison, the Stewart Island populations have experienced a relatively stable history,” Dr Rawlence says.

Associate Professor Ian Smith, an Otago archaeologist involved in the study, says it seems that these contrasting wildlife histories reflect differences in prehistoric human-hunting pressure.

“Interestingly, recent archaeological studies suggest that human numbers declined in the Stewart Island region around 1500 AD, a factor which seems to explain why wildlife persisted in this region,” he says.

Project leader Professor Jon Waters says that scientists have long argued about the causes of prehistoric wildlife declines and extinctions–some pointing the finger at humans, and others attributing the shifts to climate change.

“By showing drastically different wildlife histories–between regions that are climatically similar–we can start to understand the major impact of prehistoric human hunting, which differed across space and time,” Professor Waters says.

The team’s findings have been published this week in the leading international journal Molecular Ecology.

Source: University of Otago [September 01, 2015]



Related articles

National Trust plans trail for Iron Age hill fort find

A tourist trail is being planned for an Iron Age hill fort that has been rediscovered by Herefordshire...

4,000 year old burial chapel found in Egypt

A team of scientists from the Institute of Archaeology, University of Wrocław, Poland. have discovered  a 4,000 year...

2,000-year-old palace discovered in Mexico

A team of Mexican specialists discovered remnants of a 2,000-year-old Mayan palace at an archaeological site in the...

Dawn’s Ceres colour map reveals surface diversity

A new color map of dwarf planet Ceres, which NASA's Dawn spacecraft has been orbiting since March, reveals...

2,000 year old clay doll dug up at Osaka ruins site

A moon-faced clay doll from the mid-Yayoi Pottery Culture period (300 B.C.-A.D. 300) has been unearthed in near...

Palaeolithic diet included snails 10,000 years earlier than previously thought

Palaeolithic inhabitants of modern-day Spain may have eaten snails 10,000 years earlier than their Mediterranean neighbors, according to...

Evidence of craft specialisation in bead production in Upper Palaeolithic France?

The organization of bead production during the Aurignacian has significant implications for understanding the role of these artifacts...

Settlements in Haryana before 7000 BC?

Do Harappan settlements on the Indian side go back as early as 7000 BC or more? National Museum...