Little blue penguins recent invaders

Grosser S, Rawlence N J, Anderson C N, Smith I W, Scofield R P and Waters J M 2016. Invader or resident? Ancient-DNA reveals rapid species turnover in New Zealand little penguins. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B 283(1824): 20152879. 

Blue penguin skull. Image credit: University of Otago.

Blue penguin skull. Image credit: University of Otago

The expansion of humans into previously unoccupied parts of the globe is thought to have driven the decline and extinction of numerous vertebrate species.

In New Zealand, human settlement in the late thirteenth century AD led to the rapid demise of a distinctive vertebrate fauna, and also a number of’turnover’ events where extinct lineages were subsequently replaced by closely related taxa. The recent genetic detection of an Australian little penguin (Eudyptula novaehollandiae) in southeastern New Zealand may potentially represent an additional ‘cryptic’ invasion.

Here we use ancient-DNA (aDNA) analysis and radiocarbon dating of pre-human, archaeological and historical Eudyptula remains to reveal that the arrival of E. novaehollandiae in New Zealand probably occurred between AD 1500 and 1900, following the anthropogenic decline of its sister taxon, the endemic Eudyptula minor. This rapid turnover event, revealed by aDNA, suggests that native species decline can be masked by invasive taxa, and highlights the potential for human-mediated biodiversity shifts.

Image and press release available here.

Paper available here.