We used a comparative approach to investigate heteroblasty in the Chatham Islands. Heteroblasty refers to abrupt changes in the morphology of leaves and shoots with plant height. Common on isolated islands such as New Caledonia and New Zealand, which once had flightless, browsing birds, heteroblasty is hypothesised to be an adaptation to deter bird browsing. The Chatham Islands are a small archipelago located 800 km off the east coast of New Zealand, which has clear floristic links to New Zealand.
Polynesian settlement of New Zealand (c. 1000 yr B.P.) led directly to the extinction or reduction of much of the vertebrate fauna, destruction of half of the lowland and montane forests, and widespread soil erosion. The climate and natural vegetation changed over the same time but had negligible effects on the fauna compared with the impact of settlement. The most severe modification occurred between 750 and 500 years ago, when a rapidly increasing human population, over-exploited animal populations and used fire to clear the land.
The history of the New Zealand biota over the last 7000 years may be divided into three phases. BC 5000 to AD 1000 was a period of comparative ecological stasis. That equilibrium was disrupted between AD 1000 and AD 1800 by the destruction of most of the New Zealand plant-herbivore systems, the co-evolutionary relationship between the plants and the vertebrate herbivores being decoupled by about AD 1400. After AD 1800 new plant-herbivore systems were progressively developed and new ecological relationships forged.
Evidence of diet has been reported for all genera of extinct New Zealand moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes), using preserved gizzard content and coprolites, except the forest-dwelling Anomalopteryx. Skeletal features of the little bush moa (Anomalopteryx didiformis) have led to competing suggestions that it may have either browsed trees and shrubs or grubbed for fern rhizomes. Here, we analyse pollen assemblages from two coprolites, identified by ancient DNA analysis as having been deposited by Anomalopteryx didiformis.