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Identification of the type locality of the South Island Brown Kiwi Apteryx australis

A nomenclatural framework for the Southern Tokoeka and an insight into the movements of sealers in the early 19th century


New Zealand’s iconic, flightless and endangered species of kiwi (Apterygidae) are at risk of extinction on the mainland due to predation by introduced mammals. In order to provide effective conservation management a robust understanding of genetic variation in the group is needed. Recent genomic analyses of kiwi suggest that several cryptic and as yet undescribed lineages occur in the South Island, most notably within a taxon that has until now been called Apteryx australis australis, the South Island Brown Kiwi or Tokoeka. In order for these lineages to be formally described and treated as separate conservation units it is first necessary to determine from which lineage of Tokoeka the holotype was collected. To determine this, we generated a near complete mitochondrial genome and nuclear SNP dataset for the holotype and compared these with living kiwi populations. Our results definitively assign the holotype to the Stewart Island population of brown kiwi which until now was recognized as a distinct subspecies Apteryx australis lawyri (Rothschild, 1893). This leads us to synonymize Apteryx lawryi Rothschild, 1893 within Apteryx australis Shaw, 1813. As the holotype was collected by sealers in the early 19th century, the result also provides a novel insight into the activities of early sealers in New Zealand. New names for taxa will need to be erected for any mainland South Island taxa described, because there are no scientific names available for taxonomy.

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Data availability

Sequence data included on Genbank (see manuscript for details).


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We gratefully acknowledge the Ngati Hine, Ngati Hei, Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Raukawa, and Ngai Tahu peoples, who permitted genetic analyses of kiwi blood samples obtained from their lands (and originally published in Weir et al. 2016). We wish to thank Clemency Fisher and Tony Parker at the World Museum Liverpool for hosting us and giving permission to sample the kiwi specimen collected over 200 years ago. We acknowledge the consultation and guidance given by the Te Whare Taonga o Ngā Pākihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha Ohaki O Nga Tipuna (Canterbury Museums’ Maori Liaison Committee) for our work and have incorporated the Committee’s comments into this manuscript.


Funded by New Zealand Department of Conservation and the “Security for iconic species: Kiwi Rescue” Endeavour Fund grant from the New Zealand Ministry of Business and Innovation, Lea de Nascimento was supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 700952 and Vanesa De Pietri was supported the Marsden Fund Council from Government funding, managed by Royal Society Te Apārangi (CTM-16-001) .

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Correspondence to R. P. Scofield.

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The people of Ngati Hine, Ngati Hei, Tuhoe, Ngati Tuwharetoa, Ngati Raukawa, and Ngai Tahu peoples, permitted genetic analyses of kiwi blood samples obtained from their lands. The World Museum Liverpool gave permission to sample the holotype. Te Whare Taonga o Ngā Pākihi Whakatekateka o Waitaha Ohaki O Nga Tipuna (Canterbury Museums’ Maori Liaison Committee) gave their whakaae for this work.

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Scofield, R.P., Wood, J.R., de Nascimento, L. et al. Identification of the type locality of the South Island Brown Kiwi Apteryx australis. Conserv Genet 22, 645–652 (2021).

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