The little penguin species (popularly known as little blue penguins) found in southern New Zealand is a surprisingly recent invader from Australia, according to a new study led by University of Otago researchers.
The research, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, analysed ancient DNA from the remains of over one hundred little penguins: bones dating back to pre-human times, as well specimens from archaeological deposits and museums.
Earlier research had shown that modern little penguins found in New Zealand were in fact an offshoot of an Australian species, and the new research aimed to define when they first arrived.
Lead research Dr Stephanie Grosser says the new genetic study indicates that the Australian species arrived in New Zealand much more recently than expected.
“Amazingly, all of the bones older than 400 years belong to the native New Zealand species,” she says.
“Our results clearly show that the Australian penguin colonised Otago very recently, between 1500 and 1900 AD, apparently following the decline of the native New Zealand little penguin, which was hunted by early human settlers and introduced predators.”
The research has been widely covered in New Zealand and Australia. Examples include:
Timaru Herald: Australians can lay claim to the little blue penguins in Oamaru
New Zealand Herald: New twist in the case of the little blue penguin
Guardian: Little blue penguins from Australia ‘invaded’ New Zealand
Phys.org: New Zealand’s little penguins are recent Australian invaders
Stuff.co.nz: New Zealand’s little blue penguins are actually Australian invaders
GenomeWeb:Ancient DNA Analysis Hints at Recent Arrival of Australian Little Blue Penguins in New Zealand
Otago Daily Times: Strewth, Blue, they’re Aussies