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An extinct species of tooth-billed pigeon (Didunculus) from the Kingdom of Tonga, and the concept of endemism in insular landbirds


David W. Steadman, Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117800, Gainesville, FL 32611-7800, USA. Tel: +1 352-392-1721 x464; 465
Fax: +1 352-846-0287


The tooth-billed pigeon Didunculus strigirostris lives on three islands in Western (Independent) Samoa. A larger, extinct species, Didunculus placopedetes, is described from bones recovered in late Quaternary cave deposits on 'Eua, Kingdom of Tonga. Also referred to D. placopedetes are bones from archaeological sites on the larger Tongan island of Tongatapu and the smaller, lower islands of Lifuka, Ha'ano, 'Uiha and Ha'afeva. As with so many other landbirds in Polynesia, the extinction of D. placopedetes occurred since the arrival of people and presumably was due to human impact. The peopling of Tonga is why the genus Didunculus is considered to be endemic to Samoa. The biogeographic implications of the new data on Didunculus are not unique; human activities have reduced or eliminated the natural range of nearly every genus and species group of Polynesian landbird. The reduced ranges of surviving taxa have created a situation (herein called ‘pseudo-endemism’) where a taxon that seems today to be endemic to a restricted area (often one or two islands) was much more widespread at first human arrival. As the prehistoric record of insular birds improves in the Pacific and elsewhere, the list of pseudo-endemic taxa will continue to grow.

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