Carolyn M. King

Biogeography and History of the Prehuman Native Mammal Fauna of the New Zealand Region

  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Ecology

The widespread perception of New Zealand is of a group of remote islands dominated by reptiles and birds, with no native mammals except a few bats. In fact, the islands themselves are only part of a wider New Zealand Region which includes a large section of Antarctica. In total, the New Zealand Region has at least 63 recognised taxa (species, subspecies and distinguishable clades) of living native mammals, only six of which are bats. The rest comprise a large and vigorous assemblage of 57 native marine mammals (9 pinnipeds and 48 cetaceans), protected from human knowledge until only a few centuries ago by their extreme isolation in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. Even after humans first began to colonise the New Zealand archipelago in about 1280 AD, most of the native marine mammals remained unfamiliar because they are seldom seen from the shore. This paper describes the huge contrast between the history and biogeography of the tiny fauna of New Zealand’s native land mammals versus the richly diverse and little-known assemblage of marine mammals.

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