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Keywords:

  • Evolution on Pacific islands;
  • Gondwana;
  • island biogeography;
  • moa's ark;
  • oceanic islands;
  • Zealandia

Abstract

Islands of the Pacific Ocean have long fascinated evolutionists. Oceanic islands, generally the products of volcanic activity, provide natural experiments as biological populations are well delimited and the age of islands can be determined using radiometric dating. ‘Continental islands’, including New Caledonia and New Zealand, provide equally valuable opportunities for evolutionary study. For students of New Zealand biogeography, the peculiar composition of the biota coupled with a limited interpretation of geology has resulted in the widespread acceptance that the flora and fauna is primarily ancient and of vicariant Gondwanan origin. There is increasing evidence from molecular data that much of this biodiversity is the product of evolution following relatively recent colonization. Such data have prompted biologists to consider geological information on New Zealand in more detail. At the heart of the issue is the question of whether modern New Zealand has a terrestrial link through time with the continent Zealandia that split from Gondwanaland some 80 Ma. Zealandia, which includes New Caledonia, Lord Howe Island and several of the subantarctic islands, is now largely submerged, and New Zealand's present terrestrial existence is the product of tectonic activity initiated around 26 Ma. We argue that for the purposes of biogeographical interpretation, New Zealand can be treated as an oceanic island.