Biological Invasions

, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 1529–1556 | Cite as

Detecting the initial impact of humans and introduced species on island environments in Remote Oceania using palaeoecology

  • Matiu Prebble
  • Janet M. Wilmshurst
Invasive Rodents on Islands


The isolated archipelagos of Remote Oceania provide useful microcosms for understanding the impacts of initial human colonization. Palaeoecological data from most islands reveal catastrophic transformations, with losses of many species through over-hunting, deforestation and the introduction of novel mammalian predators, the most ubiquitous and devastating being commensal rats. Two case studies from the Austral Islands and New Zealand demonstrate the potential of direct human proxies from palaeoecological archives to detect initial human impacts on islands. We show how pollen from introduced crop plants, and buried seeds with gnaw marks from the introduced Pacific rat (Rattus exulans) provide a reliable means of detecting initial human colonization and highlight the downstream ecological consequences of agriculture and rat introduction on previously uninhabited pristine island ecosystems. Previous studies have relied on indirect signals of human arrival based on charcoal and associated vegetation changes, the causes of which are often more difficult to interpret with certainty.


Human colonization Islands Introduced plants Rat gnawed seeds Palynology Deforestation 



MP thanks Jean-Yves Meyer and Priscille Frogier of the Délégation à la Recherche and the Institut Malarde, Papeete, Tahiti for providing support for research conducted on Rimatara. JMW thanks Tom Higham for helping sieve seeds at Waitoetoe, Ngati Mutunga for their support of the Taranaki work, and Richard Zimmerman for access to the Waitoetoe field site. We thank the organisers of the Rats, Humans and their Impacts on Islands conference for inviting us to present our work. We thank Atholl Anderson, Matt McGlone and Dave Addison for their constructive comments on the manuscript. We acknowledge financial support from the Marsden Fund, Royal Society of New Zealand, Nga Pae o te Maramatanga (University of Auckland) and the Australian Research Council.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Nga Pae o te Maramatanga Fellow, Department of Archaeology and Natural History, Research School of Asia Pacific StudiesThe Australian National UniversityCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Landcare ResearchLincolnNew Zealand

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