Spores of the dung-fungi Sporormiella provide a proxy for assessing past changes in herbivore abundance, and for temporally linking these with shifts in vegetation communities (pollen) and fire frequency (charcoal). Although the proxy is now widely used, potential influences of local environmental conditions are poorly understood. Here we assess the reliability of Sporormiella as a proxy of herbivores by presenting five new spore records from the South Island of New Zealand; a land where the herbivore extinction/introduction chronology is well established, and where extinctions occurred independently of major climate change. We show that Sporormiella spores from relatively dry soils provide a good proxy for herbivore extinctions and introductions. However, spore abundances from saturated soil sites appear to fluctuate in close correlation with changes in local hydrology (represented by wetland herb pollen, testate amoebae and moisture sensitive mosses). Our results suggest Sporormiella records derived from wetlands require cautious interpretation, and that proxies for hydrological conditions should also be considered when interpreting such records. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.