Quaternary fossil fauna of South Canterbury, South Island, New Zealand

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This study documents the Late Quaternary fossil fauna from 59 fossil sites in the South Canterbury downlands, South Island, New Zealand. Twenty‐seven sites were predator accumulations attributed to laughing owls, two were accumulated by falcons, two were swamp sites, and the rest were pitfalls or rockshelter deposits. A total of 60 indigenous species of birds, one bat, three rodents, one tuatara, four geckos, and two skinks were represented in the combined faunas from these sites. When the birds known historically are added, the fauna of inland South Canterbury downlands is shown to have had a minimum diversity of 87 species in the Late Holocene before human disturbance. There were no marked faunal changes associated with the climatic amelioration from the Otira Glacial to the Holocene, such as were seen in the wetter western regions. During the Holocene in South Canterbury, species characteristic of Otiran grassland – shrubland faunas survived alongside those typical of Holocene western closed‐forest communities, although the latter were not as abundant as they were in the west. The large diversity of birds, relative to other New Zealand faunas, is therefore the result of continued survival in Canterbury into the Holocene, of grassland – shrubland mosaics similar to those that characterised widespread parts of New Zealand during the glacial periods. However, the geographic feature that permitted the survival of these critical vegetation physiognomies also caused the area to be dry, and vegetation was hence most prone to destruction by fire. This complex ecosystem is now almost totally destroyed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-162
Number of pages96
JournalJournal of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • New Zealand
  • Quaternary palaeofauna
  • South Canterbury
  • Taphonomy
  • Vertebrates


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