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Christchurch, New Zealand

Mitchell K.J.,University of Adelaide | Wood J.R.,Landcare Research | Scofield R.P.,Canterbury Museum | Llamas B.,University of Adelaide | Cooper A.,University of Adelaide
Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution | Year: 2014

The Chatham duck (Pachyanas chathamica) represented one of just three modern bird genera endemic to the Chatham archipelago (situated ~850. km east of New Zealand) but became extinct soon after humans first settled the islands (c. 13th-15th centuries AD). The taxonomic affinity of the Chatham duck remains largely unresolved; previous studies have tentatively suggested placements within both Tadornini (shelducks) and Anatini (dabbling ducks). Herein, we sequence a partial mitochondrial genome (excluding the D-loop) from the Chatham duck and discover that it was a phenotypically-divergent species within the genus Anas (Anatini). This conclusion is further supported by a re-examination of osteological characters. Our molecular analyses convincingly demonstrate that the Chatham duck is the most basal member of a sub-clade comprising the New Zealand and sub-Antarctic brown teals (the brown teal [. A. chlorotis], Auckland Island teal [. A. aucklandica] and Campbell Island teal [. A. nesiotis]). Molecular clock calculations based on an ingroup fossil calibration support a divergence between the Chatham duck and its sister-taxa that is consistent with the estimated time of emergence of the Chatham Islands. Additionally, we find that mtDNA divergence between the two sub-Antarctic teal species (. A. aucklandica and A. nesiotis) significantly pre-dates the last few glacial cycles, raising interesting questions about the timing of their dispersal to these islands, and the recent phylogeographic history of brown teal lineages in the region. © 2013 Elsevier Inc. Source

Worthy T.H.,University of New South Wales | Tennyson A.J.D.,Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa | Scofield R.P.,Canterbury Museum
Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology | Year: 2011

A new genus and three species of parrot (Psittaciformes, Strigopidae, Nestorinae) are described from the early Miocene (19-16 Ma) St Bathans Fauna of Otago, New Zealand, based on 85 fossils as follows: Nelepsittacus minimus (17), N. donmertoni (60), and N. daphneleeae (6), with two additional fossils representing a fourth unnamed taxon. These taxa range from small parrots approximately the size of Cyanoramphus species to one as large as the living Nestor notabilis. Apomorphies in the coracoid, humerus, tibiotarsus, and tarsometatarsus ally Nelepsittacus with Nestor and exclude a close relationship with Strigops, the other endemic genus assumed to have had a long history in New Zealand. With only nestorine parrots represented, the St Bathans Fauna has nothing in common with the Australian psittaciform fauna, in which cacatuids and a diversity of psittacid genera exist. These data add to the growing body of evidence that the New Zealand terrestrial vertebrate fauna, at a time minimally 3 Ma after the maximal marine inundation of Zealandia in the late Oligocene, was highly endemic, with no close relationship to the closest faunas in Australia. This high degree of endemism strongly suggests that the Zealandian terrestrial biota persisted, at least in part, through the Oligocene highstand in sea level. © 2011 by the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology. Source

Worthy T.H.,University of New South Wales | Worthy T.H.,University of Adelaide | Scofield R.P.,Canterbury Museum
New Zealand Journal of Zoology | Year: 2012

The iconic moa (Avcs: Dinornithiformes) from New Zealand continue to attract much scientific scrutiny, as they have done since their discovery in the 1840s. Here, we review moa research since 2001 that advances our knowledge of the biology of these families; in particular, their breeding, diet and phylogenetic relationships. Then we perform a phylogenetic analysis based on morphological characters using a broader range of taxa and many more characters than hitherto used in moa analyses. Finally, we provide revised diagnoses of all moa taxa to reflect current knowledge. In this last decade, molecular analyses have been at the forefront of much of this research. Indeed, moa have become model subjects for advances in ancient DNA technology on account of their preservation and young geological age, and the fact that several of the foremost proponents of ancient DNA research are New Zealanders. Much of this research has been about extending the capacity of ancient DNA technology as much as about answering biological questions, but the resultant insights with regard to the latter have been profound for moa. Complete mitochondrial genomes for three species of moa have been published and extensive datasets of a number of mitochondrial genes are now available for all species over their entire geographic range. Analyses of nuclear DNA is limited to a sex specific gene and some preliminary microsatellite identifications, but it seems likely that improved technology will allow greater use of this resource in the near future. Phylogenetic analyses of mitochondrial molecular data have precipitated several changes to moa taxonomy and nine species are now recognised. The significance of deep phylogenetic structure among populations in some taxa continues to attract debate and likely will require nuclear data and a more profound understanding of natural variation in extant species to resolve. Significantly, molecular data have enabled new insights into diet, with direct identification of species responsible for coprolites, and by its new-found propensity to identify eggshell, foreshadows further advances in understanding their breeding biology and distribution. Our phylogenetic analysis, based on 179 characters scored for 23 ingroup palaeognath taxa and three galloanseres as outgroups, resulted in several strongly supported relationships. Firstly, the Eocene palaeognath Lithornis was either sister to remaining palaeognaths or had a weak affinity towards tinamous. All ratites formed a monophyletic clade exclusive of tinamous. Moa were monophyletic and sister to aepyornithids in the unconstrained analysis. Attempts to constrain moa as sister to tinamous to reflect molecular-based conclusions resulted in moa as sister to all ratites in a clade that was unresolved with respect to tinamous and Lithornis. This relatively basal position of moa was not a significantly worse reflection of the data compared to their more crownward location in the initial analyses. The casuariids were sister to Struthio and the rheas. In our revised diagnoses for Dinornithiformes and all its constituent taxa, we give updated information on the type specimens based on recent research by the authors. We accept three families, six genera and nine species, and make the new combinations of Euryapteryx curtus curtus (Owen) and E. curtus gravis (Owen). Complete or near complete exemplars of the skull of all moa taxa, most not illustrated before, are shown in dorsal, lateral and ventral views. Source

Scofield R.P.,Canterbury Museum | Cullen R.,Lincoln University at Christchurch | Wang M.,Lincoln University at Christchurch
New Zealand Journal of Ecology | Year: 2011

A review of pest-exclusion fences throughout New Zealand shows that the goals of fence projects are frequently not achieved and cost-benefit analyses often do not adequately quantify ongoing costs. The creation of these sanctuaries enclosed by predator-proof fences often creates small expensive zoos surrounded by degraded habitat that will never be able to sustain the animal and plant species contained within the fence. We examine what fence proponents and conservation trusts believe they are achieving and ask whether the evidence available demonstrates that fenced areas are capable of fulfilling these objectives. © New Zealand Ecological Society. Source

Barnes K.M.,University of Canterbury | Hiller N.,Canterbury Museum
Alcheringa | Year: 2010

The pre-burial history of a partial elasmosaurid plesiosaur skeleton is reconstructed from analysis of the distribution and modification of bones preserved in a calcareous concretionary mass. The specimen lacks the skull, cervical vertebrae, left limb bones and some girdle elements, but the remaining bones are interpreted to have been deposited on the sea floor from a semi-buoyant carcass and their relative positions modified by the action of scavengers. Bioerosive agents caused loss of bone, particularly on joint surfaces and vertebral centra, as the carcass lay exposed on the sea floor, perhaps for several years before burial. © 2010 Association of Australasian Palaeontologists. Source

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