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Timeline - Our changing ecosystems

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An interactive look at some of the historical aspects of Hidden Taonga. Slide the time bar to see key dates relating to Hidden Taonga. Pause the mouse pointer over any of the boxes to see additional information about each event. Find out more about Hidden Taonga by browsing or searching the hub.

250 million years ago

One landmass and one huge ocean

All landmass on Earth is grouped in one super continent – Pangaea. The remainder of the surface of the planet is covered in water, in the form of vast oceans. Around 250 million years ago, Pangaea begins to break up due to the pressures from under the Earth’s crust.

230 million years ago

Dinosaurs begin to roam the Earth

Dinosaurs start to appear in the fossil record during the Triassic Period (250–200 million years ago). Dinosaurs evolved from the species archosaur, following a mass extinction of an estimated 95% of all life on Earth (the Permian-Triassic extinction). Over the next 160 million years, they are the dominant species on Earth and differentiate to fill every ecological niche.

180–200 million years ago

Gondwana and Laurasia begin to form

When the enormous landmass Pangaea begins to break up, it forms two smaller landmasses – Laurasia in the north and Gondwana in the south. The fossil record from southern continents such as Africa, Australia and South America show that these were all originally part of the same huge continent. Gondwana finally separates from Laurasia around 180 million years ago.

120 million years ago

New Zealand begins to form

The land that will eventually form New Zealand starts to separate from Gondwana. A rift begins to develop in the huge Gondwana landmass. As the rift deepens, the ocean floods in, forming the Tasman Sea. The rift and the sea continue to grow, pushing New Zealand further south until around 30 million years ago.

80 million years ago

Meteors strike the Earth and cause massive extinctions

A huge meteor hits the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico with enough force to form a crater 170 kilometres wide (about the width of the South Island between Greymouth and Kaikoura). The meteor impact causes a range of catastrophic events including tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and so much debris in the atmosphere that the Sun’s rays don’t reach the Earth’s surface for at least 6 months. By this stage, an estimated 85% of all the world’s existing species are extinct.

From 65 million years ago

New Zealand is an island

Now separated from the continents, the newly formed island is inhabited by species from Gondwana, including beech trees, ferns, kiwi, moa, tuatara and wētā. There is evidence of early mammals elsewhere in the world but it appears that none survived here and NZ became dominated by birds.

25 to 5 million years ago

New Zealand as we know it formed

Various geological events occur including sinking followed by huge upheaval. Around 5 million years ago, the landmass begins to split up forming the Cook and Foveaux Straits. Species continue to travel from nearby Australia such as mānuka, rātā, pōhutukawa, saddleback, kōkako and huia.

7000 years ago

Native New Zealand species established

The islands of New Zealand have taken their current form and are covered in diverse, mature ecosystems with a multitude of wildlife. Birds dominate and with few predators, many lose the ability to fly. The predators that do exist are huge bird species such as the Haast’s eagle.

950–1150 AD

Polynesians arrive

The first Polynesian settlers bring with them the Polynesian rat (kiore), which wipes out a number of small bird species as well as frogs and lizards.

1400

Haast’s eagle becomes extinct

The female eagles weigh 10–15 kg, the males 9–12 kg, and both have a wingspan of around 3 metres (relatively short, given their weight). This means they are powerful fliers, reaching estimated speeds of 80 kph, with a great deal of manoeuvrability, allowing them to hunt moa in the dense forests. As the number of moa declines, the Haast’s eagle becomes extinct.

1500

Last of the moa disappear

Hunted for food and affected by habitat destruction, the moa are very rapidly lost forever. Some think the moa may have survived for less than 200 years from the first arrival of humans.

1642

Abel Tasman sights New Zealand

New Zealand is first sighted (and given its European name) by explorer Abel Tasman.

1769

Captain Cook lands

Europeans first set foot in New Zealand with Captain James Cook.

Mid-1800s

Europeans begin to settle in New Zealand

Foreign species such as rats, cats, stoats, weasels and ferrets are introduced. Species of frogs, lizards and small birds become extinct. Humans hunt seals and whales. New Zealand loses an estimated half of its invertebrate (for example, insects) and bird species.

1894

Last Stephens Island wren killed by cat

The island’s lighthouse keeper reports that his cat has brought him 17 tiny flightless birds, about the size of a mouse. The Stephens Island wren is discovered and then becomes extinct within the space of a year – the only bird known to have this happen.

Mid-1890s

Off-shore islands used in conservation

Resolution Island caretaker Richard Henry moves kiwi and kākāpō to the island to prevent them being attacked by predators. Unfortunately, stoats swim to the island, and the conservation attempt fails.

1920s

Last sighting of the huia

The feathers of this small bird are highly prized by Māori – the huia are easily identified by their sleek black plumage, white tipped tail feathers and a bright orange wattle under the neck. Their call is said to have been deep and melodious, similar to the distinctive call of the tūī. This native bird is thought to have been hunted to extinction by rats and stoats.

1960s

More last sightings

Last sighting of the bush wren, the South Island snipe and the South Island kōkako.

1980

Tiritiri Matangi Island designated a scientific reserve

The land on Tiritiri Matangi Island, off the coast of Auckland, is slowly converted from pasture to bush land, having been farmed since the 1890s. Bird species are slowly re-introduced, and from the mid-1990s, the island is open to the public.

1995–1996

On-shore ‘islands’ established

The Department of Conservation begins to establish 6 on-shore ‘islands’, including the Trounson Kauri Park and Rotoiti Nature Recovery Project. These regions of the mainland have all introduced predators removed before fencing, and other measures are undertaken to prevent predator invasion.

Acknowledgements:
Image: www.teara.govt.nz/en/photograph/10640/beech-forest-floor

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