Sunday, December 10, 2017

Book review

The History of Life in New Zealand
Fully revised Edition (2016)
By George Gibbs
Published by Potton & Burton

ISBN978 0 947503 08 6

Have you ever wondered why New Zealand’s plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? GHOSTS OF GONDWANA is the remarkable story of how and why life evolved in New Zealand.
The first thing you have to get your head around when reading GHOSTS OF GONDWANA, is the 85 million year time span within which the discussions take place. When you consider that Homo sapiens have been wandering the earth for just 500,000 years, it brings it into perspective.
The 85 million years ago as a starting point, is when Zealandia started moving away from Australia with the breaking up of Gondwana land. The formation of Zealandia as an independent land mass (being at times no more than a group of relatively small islands) and the evolutionary development of our flora and fauna over that time period, consisted of continual change in land forms caused by the rise and fall of sea level and  land movement from tectonic plate activity. This had a direct bearing on the evolution of our ecosystem as we know it today.
The book explains the difference between endemic (organisms that are restricted to one place and not found elsewhere) and indigenous or native (a species that is shared with another place). The line between the two is not always clear and at times requires molecular analysis (molecular phylogenetics) to resolve.
GHOSTS OF GONDWANA surveys the research of thirty case histories (birds, insects and plants) in its attempt to explain the what, where, when and how of each case.  No two cases are the same. There tends to be a considerable amount of theory and assumption within these case studies despite the recent use of molecular phylogenetics to answer many questions. The time frame is vast, evolution is slow and there is not always a trail of fossils left for our convenience.

The book is very well presented and is written in a very readable format. The subject is thoroughly interesting, but this is a specialist’s book so may well have limited appeal. It is however, highly recommended to anyone who has a deep interest in New Zealand’s natural history.

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