Relict or colonizer? Extinction and range expansion of penguins in southern New Zealand

Sanne Boessenkool, Jeremy J. Austin, Trevor H. Worthy, Paul Scofield, Alan Cooper, Philip J. Seddon, Jonathan M. Waters

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

102 Citations (Scopus)


Recent human expansion into the Pacific initiated a dramatic avian extinction crisis, and surviving taxa are typically interpreted as declining remnants of previously abundant populations. As a case in point, New Zealand's endangered yellow-eyed penguin (Megadyptes antipodes) is widely considered to have been more abundant and widespread in the past. By contrast, our genetic and morphological analyses of prehistoric, historic and modern penguin samples reveal that this species expanded its range to the New Zealand mainland only in the last few hundred years. This range expansion was apparently facilitated by the extinction of M. antipodes' previously unrecognized sister species following Polynesian settlement in New Zealand. Based on combined genetic and morphological data, we describe this new penguin species, the first known to have suffered human-mediated extinction. The range expansion of M. antipodes so soon after the extinction of its sister species supports a historic paradigmatic shift in New Zealand Polynesian culture. Additionally, such a dynamic biological response to human predation reveals a surprising and less recognized potential for species to have benefited from the extinction of their ecologically similar sister taxa and highlights the complexity of large-scale extinction events.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)815-821
Number of pages7
JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1658
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Ancient DNA
  • Extinction
  • Megadyptes antipodes
  • New Zealand
  • Palaeontology
  • Polynesian


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