Unearthing vanished ecosystems, 40-years studying moa poo
January 14, 2022 12:37 PM   Subscribe

A local scientist has just published a study of pre-human vegetation in Southern New Zealand Central Otago New Zealand - largely through analysing moa (Dinonis species) coprolites and bedding material in caves. This has taken forty years as the region is harsh (<400mm rainfall, -20 to +40°C), inaccessible and research was self-funded.

The region is now mainly tussock-grassland with a host of theories on what existed in deeper history, first before Europeans, and then prior to Maori circa 1100. This study will change how people see the landscape, and how they approach revegetation in this region. It appears the dominant plants was a yellow-flowering tree we call kowhai Sophora microphylla (actually we have about 2 dozen species), represented in the US as Texas mountain laurel, our version is poisonous rather than halucinogenic.

A vanished ecosystem: Sophora microphylla (Kōwhai) dominated forest recorded in mid-late Holocene rock shelters in Central Otago, NZ (full article as webpage).

* I know the author but only via twitter
posted by unearthed (7 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Sweet as!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 2:14 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I love this crap! (As a grad student, I picked through packrat middens (peed on, not pooped) for my advisor) to help reconstruct post glaciation ecological communities in the American southwest.)
posted by mollweide at 3:25 PM on January 14 [3 favorites]

Kudos to the researcher for self-funding! Grad school made me realize how much science is generally not done because the low pay makes projects like this unappealing.

Gut content studies, for example. Very revealing work, but very few will get paid poop to cover themselves in poop.
posted by eustatic at 4:59 PM on January 14

I lived in Otago as a teenager and would love to live there again someday, it is very beautiful land, but desolate (especially after the tropics). I had a wonderful Geography teacher who would do lots of field trips and I remember her waxing enthusiastically about the bountiful forest we were going to visit and then being bewildered and lost as everyone around me was oohing and aahing over what to me looked like a barren landscape with barely any trees. Not a proper forest at all.

Thank you - I'm halfway through and enjoying the paper immensely, and maybe this will inspire more revegetation and rewilding to pre-human states to see what that would've been like.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:48 PM on January 14 [2 favorites]

This is interesting, thank you for posting it.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:21 AM on January 15

In case anyone's interested the paper's author Dr Mike Pole has just been interviewed on Radio NZ. It's a good listen and well worth 15mins of your time.
posted by unearthed at 8:33 PM on January 15 [1 favorite]

I live in Otago, the place that reminds me most of home was living in California - the "golden hills" (really "brown") of California remind me of Central Otago tussock land. We've long known that prior to humans showing up (Aotearoa was one of the last places on the planet to be discovered - ~12-1300AD) Central Otago was forest, I'd always assumed it was manuka (that decorative plant you find growing on the street in California) and possibly beech - but a kowhai forest would have been glorious.

One more connection between Central Otago and California are the wild California poppies you see growing along the road sides, supposedly introduced by gold miners who made the trip to Central after the CA fields gave out
posted by mbo at 12:40 AM on January 16 [2 favorites]

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