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Mark Norell and Luis Chiappe review Alan Feduccia's book _The Origin and
Evolution of Birds_ (1996, Yale Uni. Press, pp. 420) in the newest edition of
_Nature_ (384: 230). Not surprisingly, they don't like it at all and only really
say one 'nice' thing about it: 'Coverage of fossil specimens is extensive'.
Elsewhere, they criticise Feduccia's idiosyncratic approach to phylogeny, his
failure to site literature that disproves or contests his views (e.g. that
_Archaeopteryx_ is very close to enantiornithes), and his skewed logic with
regard to assessment of theropod-bird homologies.
Many interesting points are raised in this review: as I've hopefully emphasised,
it is _very_ negative. Norell and Chiappe conclude: 'This book should have been
much better; a well-illustrated volume detailing the history and biology of
birds in a modern phylogenetic context is sorely needed. Until such a volume
appears, we must still rely on the primary literature'.
BACK TO NEW ZEALAND - THIS TIME, IT'S RATS..
Curiously enough, the same issue includes an article by Richard Holdaway (world
authority on _Harpagornis_ and other New Zealand avifauna): Arrival of rats in
New Zealand. _Nature_ 384: 225-6. It has always been assumed that the Pacific
rat or Kiore (_Rattus exulans_) was introduced to NZ with the Maori, around 850
years BP (most texts put Maori invasion at about 1000 years BP, but unequivocal
data for colonization starts at 850.. still controversial though), but Holdaway
presents radiocarbon data showing that kiore were on both NZ islands 2000 years
BP (see supplementary info yourself at http://www.nature.com).
It's still thought that kiore couldn't have got to NZ without human assistance,
though, so Holdaway suggests that a transient or short-lived human population
visited prior to the Maori invasion (as if speculations of pre-maori people
weren't already bad enough what with a block of ignimbrite and all).
So, presumably, with 1000 years on NZ as the only exotic invader, kiore could
have done in all susceptible fauna (some ground nesting birds, some wetas etc.)
BEFORE the later extinction of moa and other avifauna: 'Extinctions of small
vertebrates vulnerable to rat predation should precede extinctions of moa and
other large taxa by human hunting and habitat destruction' (p. 225). In theory
therefore, detailed examination of the fossil record should show such an
extinction. This may go toward explaining some aspects of the vulnerability of
certain extant NZ taxa (i.e. their numbers had already been depleted by an
additional 1000 years of rat predation), and it may be the reason why mustelids,
introduced by Europeans, did comparatively little damage later on (i.e. 2000
years of rat predation had already removed vulnerable biotic elements).
Another lengthy diatribe in the series. I may write a book.
Time to get some sleep. I was up till 03-15 doing an essay on deep water
formation in the Mediterranean and Red Seas.. groan.
"Your hate has made you strong"