Ancient DNA of crested penguins: Testing for temporal genetic shifts in the world's most diverse penguin clade Academic Article uri icon


  • Human impacts have substantially reduced avian biodiversity in many parts of the world, particularly on isolated islands of the Pacific Ocean. The New Zealand archipelago, including its five subantarctic island groups, holds breeding grounds for a third of the world's penguin species, including several representatives of the diverse crested penguin genus Eudyptes. While this species-rich genus has been little studied genetically, recent population estimates indicate that several Eudyptes taxa are experiencing demographic declines. Although crested penguins are currently limited to southern regions of the New Zealand archipelago, prehistoric fossil and archaeological deposits suggest a wider distribution during prehistoric times, with breeding ranges perhaps extending to the North Island. Here, we analyse ancient, historic and modern DNA sequences to explore two hypotheses regarding the recent history of Eudyptes in New Zealand, testing for (1) human-driven extinction of Eudyptes lineages; and (2) reduced genetic diversity in surviving lineages. From 83 prehistoric bone samples, each tentatively identified as 'Eudyptes spp.', we genetically identified six prehistoric penguin taxa from mainland New Zealand, including one previously undescribed genetic lineage. Moreover, our Bayesian coalescent analyses indicated that, while the range of Fiordland crested penguin (E. pachyrhynchus) may have contracted markedly over the last millennium, genetic DNA diversity within this lineage has remained relatively constant. This result contrasts with human-driven biodiversity reductions previously detected in several New Zealand coastal vertebrate taxa.


  • Cole, TL
  • Rawlence, NJ
  • Dussex, N
  • Ellenberg, Ursula
  • Houston, DM
  • Mattern, Thomas
  • Miskelly, CM
  • Morrison, KW
  • Scofield, RP
  • Tennyson, AJD
  • Thompson, DR
  • Wood, JR
  • Waters, JM

publication date

  • 2019