Have you ever wondered why New Zealand's plants and animals are so different from those in other countries? Why the kakapo is the only parrot in the world that cannot fly, or why the kiwi lives here and nowhere else? New Zealand is an extraordinary place, unique on Earth, and the remarkable story of how and why life evolved here is the subject of Ghosts of Gondwana. The science that traces the history of life on Earth is called historical biogeography and it is the theme of this book. Biogeography is a wide-ranging study, involving geology, genetics and biology. There are no departments of it and no professors, but to understand 'what lives where and why' it is necessary to probe the cutting edge of fields as disparate as continental drift and the inner secrets of the magic DNA molecule. Although we are blessed in New Zealand with many descriptive books about our birds, plants, landscapes and conservation issues, there is currently no up-to-date book that explains the origin of our life. George Gibbs' very accessible story summarises exciting new research which leads to an understanding of where our fauna and flora came from and how they evolved to become some of the strangest in the world. It also reveals the landmark events in our deep history which have moulded the life of today and presents a balanced view of the arguments which accompany this type of speculative science. Ghosts of Gondwana is a highly readable and engaging book. Heavily illustrated with photographs and diagrams, this is popular science writing at its best. As the only contemporary book on this subject, it will undoubtedly become essential reading for anyone interested in New Zealand's natural history.
A comprehensive up to date understanding of the evolutionary history of New Zealandís biota. Written partially as teaching material for one of Gibbs' university courses, Gibbs presents research into the plants and animals, some of which we consider ancient Gondwanan relics, and provides evidence to suggest whether they are of Gondwanan origin or actually recent arrivals using biological and geological evidence. This book is well written and easy to follow for anyone with an interest in New Zealand flora and fauna. It is a perfect accompaniment to "In Search of Ancient New Zealand" by Campbell and Hutching by providing, sometimes conflicting, evidence to their more geological account of New Zealand's formation.
The book is quite a good overview, but somewhat egocentric, biased and at times misleading viz., the Australian Rainbow Lorikeet (called ornate lori) is used as an example of a 'normal parrot' where the plumage colour of the sexes are similar to contrast with that of the Kakapo - which is called NZ's deviant parrot. It implies by omission that the Kakapo is the only parrot with different coloured plumage in males and females of a species and that this feature doesn't occur elsewhere. Doesn't mention other "abnormal" parrots such as the Australian King Parrot, the Electus Parrot, Gang Gang Cockatoo, Fig Parrots, Red-Cheeked Parrot, Superb Parrot, Princess Parrot, Cockateil, Red-Capped Parrot, Red-Rumped Parrot, Mulga Parrot, Hooded Parrot, Golden-Shouldered Parrot - all told about 20 species. Misleading titles such as "failed to reach NZ" imply that species tried but didn't succeed in landing in NZ where in reality (and as explained in the text) NZ had separated prior to the absent species' development.
Thus the book would benefit from a broader Gondwanic overview to put NZ into context and judicious editing. It's a shame, because there is lots of great information in it which is undermined by aberrations such as these.
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