Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 19, Issue 11, pp 3207–3224 | Cite as

Long-term ecological change in a conservation hotspot: the fossil avifauna of Mé Auré Cave, New Caledonia

  • Alison G. BoyerEmail author
  • Helen F. James
  • Storrs L. Olson
  • Jack A. Grant-Mackie
Original paper


Through the continuing accumulation of fossil evidence, it is clear that first human arrival on islands around the world was linked to a rise in the extinction rate for vertebrates. Bones in human-era fossil sites can also reveal changes in the composition and structure of ecological communities due to human environmental impacts. New Caledonia is a large and biogeographically distinct island in the southwest Pacific and is considered a critical priority for biodiversity conservation. We examined fossil birds from the Mé Auré Cave site (WMD007), located in lowland dry forest on the west coast of New Caledonia. Accumulation of bird skeletal material in the cave was primarily through deposition in barn owl (Tyto alba) pellets. The site recorded the island-wide extinction of two species and extirpation of at least two other species from the lowlands in the past 1200 years. Species richness of birds in the stratigraphic deposit was quite high, reflecting the catholic diet of barn owls on islands, and many species have continued to persist near the site despite loss and degradation of the dry forest. However, we found substantial turnover in relative abundance of species in the cave deposit, with edge and open country birds becoming more common through time. These changes may reflect the severe reduction of dry forest habitat during the colonial period. This work provides a temporal record of avifaunal and environmental change in the threatened dry forest habitat that should be particularly informative for ongoing conservation and restoration efforts.


Birds Deforestation Extinction Owl pellet Pacific islands Radiocarbon Sclerophyll forest Subfossil Turnix 



We are grateful to F. Desmoulins and the Programme de Conservation des Forêts Sèches for providing bird survey data from the Deux Frères forest and to Mr. G. SantaCroce for access to the Me Aure Cave site. P. Maurizot and C. Sand provided valuable advice that enabled our fieldwork in New Caledonia. We thank A. Wiley for pretreatment of the barn owl bones for radiocarbon dating. We thank D. Steadman and curatorial staff at the Florida Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) for their assistance. Funding was provided by a Smithsonian Institution Postdoctoral Fellowship to AGB and a NMNH grant to HFJ and AGB. The project was also partially supported by a National Science Foundation Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in Biological Informatics (DBI-0805669) to AGB.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alison G. Boyer
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Helen F. James
    • 2
  • Storrs L. Olson
    • 2
  • Jack A. Grant-Mackie
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Division of Birds, MRC-116National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian InstitutionWashingtonUSA
  3. 3.School of Geography and EnvironmentUniversity of AucklandAucklandNew Zealand

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