Aim To investigate areas of endemism in New Caledonia and their relationship with tectonic history.
Location New Caledonia, south-west Pacific.
Methods Panbiogeographical analysis.
Results Biogeographical patterns within New Caledonia are described and illustrated with reference to eight terranes and ten centres of endemism. The basement terranes make up a centre of endemism for taxa including Amborella, the basal angiosperm. Three of the terranes that accreted to the basement in the Eocene (high-pressure metamorphic terrane, ultramafic nappe and Loyalty Ridge) have their own endemics.
Main conclusions New Caledonia is not simply a fragment of Gondwana but, like New Zealand and New Guinea, is a complex mosaic of allochthonous terranes. The four New Caledonian basement terranes were all formed from island arc-derived and arc-associated material (including ophiolites) which accumulated in the pre-Pacific Ocean, not in Gondwana. They amalgamated and were accreted to Gondwana (eastern Australia) in the Late Jurassic/Early Cretaceous, but in the Late Cretaceous they separated from Australia with the opening of the Tasman Sea and break-up of Gondwana. An Eocene collision of the basement terranes with an island arc to the north-east – possibly the Loyalty Ridge – is of special biogeographical interest in connection with New Caledonia–central Pacific affinities. The Loyalty–Three Kings Ridge has had a separate history from that of the Norfolk Ridge/New Caledonia, although both now run in parallel between Vanuatu and New Zealand. The South Loyalty Basin opened between Grande Terre and the Loyalty Ridge in the Cretaceous and attained a width of 750 km. However, it was almost completely destroyed by subduction in the Eocene which brought the Loyalty Ridge and Grande Terre together again, after 30 Myr of separation. The tectonic history is reflected in the strong biogeographical differences between Grande Terre and the Loyalty Islands. Many Loyalty Islands taxa are widespread in the Pacific but do not occur on Grande Terre, and many Grande Terre/Australian groups are not on the Loyalty Islands. The Loyalty Islands are young (2 Myr old) but they are merely the currently emergent parts of the Loyalty Ridge whose ancestor arcs have a history of volcanism dating back to the Cretaceous. Old taxa endemic to the young Loyalty Ridge islands persist over geological time as a dynamic metapopulation surviving in situ on the individually ephemeral islands and atolls found around subduction zones. The current Loyalty Islands, like the Grande Terre terranes, have inherited their biota from previous islands. On Grande Terre, the ultramafic terrane was emplaced on Grande Terre in the Eocene (about the same time as the collision with the island arc). The very diverse endemic flora on the ultramafics may have been inherited by the obducting nappe from prior base-rich habitat in the region, including the mafic Poya terrane and the limestones typical of arc and intraplate volcanic islands.