New Zealand Journal of Ecology (2010) 34(1): 185- 194

Historical and ecological context, pattern and process, in the derivation of New Zealand’s freshwater fish fauna

Review Article
Robert M. McDowall  
  1. National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, PO Box 8602, Christchurch

This paper explores distribution patterns exhibited by New Zealand’s freshwater fish fauna, both
fossil and extant, and seeks to clarify processes that have generated these patterns. Knowledge of a Miocene New Zealand terrestrial/freshwater fossil fauna is based substantially on lacustrine deposits in Central Otago. It reflects an ecologically very different fauna from that known today. Nothing is known of the Miocene fluvial fauna. Present-day patterns of distribution and diversity reflect a deep ecological dichotomy. About half the fauna is diadromous, and the habit of these species, of moving to and from the sea, provides them with great resilience in the face of major known landscape perturbations resulting from orogeny and land submergence, glaciation and volcanism. The diadromous species tend to be widespread throughout New Zealand. In contrast, non-diadromous species are more strictly confined to freshwater habitats, and a major means of spread relates to changes in directions and connections of stream flows. As a result, species are much less resilient, they exhibit complex patterns of sympatry, and their ranges are much more localised. Despite all elements in the fauna living across the same landscape in space and time, distribution patterns of the varying species groups display great differences in pattern.