Thursday, 15 October 2015, 10:01 am
Press Release: Canterbury Museum
New species find in Central Otago confirms link between Australian and South American shorebirds
A new species of shorebird, dating from a time when New Zealand was covered in subtropical forests and crocodiles roamed parts of the South Island, has been found near St Bathans in Central Otago.
An international team of New Zealand and Australian-based scientists, including Canterbury Museum researchers, have confirmed that the 19 - 16 million-year-old shorebird fossils belong to a group which had been thought to only comprise the Australian Plains-wanderer and the South American seedsnipes.
The new species, Hakawai melvillei, has been named after New Zealand ornithologist David Melville to honour his efforts in the conservation of migratory shorebirds.
Lead author and Canterbury Museum researcher, Dr Vanesa De Pietri, says that the team were excited to discover that the fossil shorebird was not a typical wader, but more like an ancestral Plains-wanderer, with some seedsnipe-like features. The Plains-wanderer and seedsnipes are unusual shorebirds as they have adapted well to living on the land.
“We’re happy to have found a fossil bird that provides a key morphological link between the two groups. The discovery of Hakawai melvillei has confirmed our thinking that the ancestors of the Plains-wanderer and seedsnipes were wading birds, like most other shorebirds,” she says. “It has also confirmed previous research I’ve undertaken, with colleagues, that the Plains-wanderer and seedsnipes evolved their terrestrial habits independently.”