经济学人科技 || 新西兰的野生动物




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New Zealand’s wildlife


英文部分选自经济学人 2020011 期科技版块

经济学人科技 || 新西兰的野生动物

New Zealand’s wildlife


Here be giants


A collection of huge fossilised animals casts new light on how New Zealand’s unique wildlife evolved


Squawkzilla, as he (or possibly she) has come to be known, is not the sort of parrot that would sit on your shoulder while you cooed “pretty polly”. Instead, this huge flightless bird (weighing around 7kg and about a metre tall) would probably have pecked a chunk out of you with its massive beak. Although, as do most parrots, Squawkzilla would have fed on fruit and other vegetation, it is likely to have supplemented its diet with a bit of carnivory.


That much, at least, can be interpreted from its fossilised leg bone, which was found a decade ago in 19m-year-old sediment laid down in an ancient lake near St Bathans on New Zealands South Island. Squawkzilla has been formally named Heracles inexpectatus, after a re-examination of the bone last year concluded it was not, as previously thought, from a huge eagle.

十年前,人们在新西兰南岛圣巴特汉斯附近一个古老湖泊中,发现了距今 1900 万年的沉淀物,其中有鸟斯拉的腿骨化石。化石为上述鸟斯拉的饮食习惯提供了依据。去年对化石再次检测,推翻了此前认为它们是从老鹰进化来的说法,现在鸟斯拉已被正式命名为海力克斯。

A model of Squawkzilla, along with remains and re-creations of other giant creatures discovered over the past 20 years, has gone on show at a new exhibition in the Canterbury Museum, in Christchurch. Among them is a formidable penguin you would also not like to meet. As big as an adult human and weighing some 70-80kg, Crossvallia waiparensis would have towered over a modern emperor penguin.

位于基督城的坎特伯雷博物馆曾展出海力克斯的模型,和其他近二十年发现的巨型动物的遗骸或再创模型,包括少见的巨型企鹅:克罗斯瓦利亚·威帕朗西斯(Crossvallia waiparensis),它的体型类似成年人,体重达 70-80 公斤,远远超越了现代帝企鹅。



All these discoveries help confirm that the unique flora and fauna found in New Zealand not only had an exotic origin, but that the country was indeed also once a land of giants. How those giants came about is still being revealed as more fossils are found.


Animals adapt to their environments in different ways and those living on islands often shrink compared with their mainland relatives. Being smaller allows them to cope better within a reduced territory and to hide more easily from predators. Yet animals on some islands take a different path, with dwarfism replaced by gigantism. New Zealand went that way with gusto, perhaps because it consists of a pair of fairly big islands devoid of large mammalian predators.


This was a land for birds, which grew large and in some cases lost the use of their wings. These enormous avians included the giant moa, a flightless species 2½ metres tall. It was hunted by the enormous Haast’s eagle, which had a wingspan of up to three metres. Then, some 800 years ago, human beings began to arrive, at first from Polynesia and later from Europe. New Zealand’s wildlife was soon depleted through hunting, land clearance and the introduction of alien predators, such as rats, stoats and possums.

新西兰是鸟的国度,这里的鸟体型巨大,有的翅膀已经丧失功能。恐鸟是巨鸟的一种,不会飞,高达大约 2.5 米。它的天敌是哈斯特巨鹰,翼幅长达约 3 米。但是 800 年前,人类开始来到新西兰,起初是波利尼西亚人,后来是欧洲人。他们捕杀动物而且不断开荒,再加上外来天敌,如老鼠、短尾鼬和负鼠的影响,新西兰的动植物很快就灭绝了。

According to one estimate, along with the moa and Haast’s eagle, over 50 other native species of animals and plants were driven to extinction. Some cling on, including the kiwi, which is nocturnal and so harder for people to hunt, and the kakapo, a flightless parrot whose population fell to around 50 in the 1990s but which the efforts of conservationists have now quadrupled. Until the discovery of Squawkzilla, kakapos were thought to be the world’s largest parrots, living or extinct.

据估计,除了恐鸟和哈斯特巨鹰之外,还有其它 50 余种当地动植物也灭绝了。但仍有一些得以幸存,例如几维鸟,因为昼伏夜出 , 所以猎杀相对困难,以及不会飞的鸮鹦鹉。在 20 世纪 90 年代期间,鸮鹦鹉数量急剧减少至 50 只左右,后来,在环保主义者的努力之下,其数量才得以翻了两番。在鸟斯拉被发现以前,人们一直认为鸮鹦鹉是世界上已知的体型最大的鹦鹉。

The ancestors of New Zealand’s wildlife evolved when the place was rather different from today, explains Paul Scofield, the Canterbury Museum’s curator for natural history. The story begins around 80m years ago, when a mass of Earth’s crust split away from Australia and Antarctica. This was followed by the mass extinction that wiped out non-avian dinosaurs and many other species 66m years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period. As most of what became New Zealand had been below sea level when it split with Australia and Antarctica, the land that subsequently emerged from the ocean was something of a blank canvas for evolutionary biology. Life was good, especially for birds. The terrain rapidly became covered with lush forests, providing plenty of food, and there was a balmy tropical climate with a warm sea full of corals, fish and giant turtles. In such an environment, Dr Scofield says, persity exploded.

坎特伯雷博物馆自然历史馆馆长保罗·斯科菲尔德(Paul Scofield)解释到,“古新西兰与现在大不相同,而新西兰野生动物的祖先正是在古新西兰的环境中进化而来的。”故事开始于约 8000 万年前,一大块地壳从澳大利亚和南极洲分裂开来。随后,在 6600 万年前的白垩纪晚期,非飞行类类恐龙以及诸多其他物种大规模灭绝。当地壳从澳大利亚和南极洲分裂形成新西兰时,新西兰绝大部分位于海平面以下。因此,随后新西兰大陆从海洋中上升露出时,进化生物学在这片陆地上还是一片空白。这片陆地上的生活妙不可言,对于鸟类来说更是如此。陆地很快就被茂密的森林覆盖,保证了足够的食物供给;而热带气候温暖舒适,海洋里随处可见珊瑚、鱼类以及巨型海龟。斯科菲尔德博士表示,正是在这样的环境条件下,生物种类迅速丰富起来。



That persity included the giants. The monster penguin, C. waiparensis, lived about 59m years ago. Its remains were discovered by Leigh Love and Al Mannering, a pair of amateur palaeontologists who have been working with a team from the Canterbury Museum at a site near Waipara, 60km north of Christchurch. This previously unknown species is one of the world’s oldest penguins and it shows that these birds grew large early in their evolution. Its closest known relative is a similarly large species that lived at about the same time in Antarctica. Though Antarctica is now an icy continent, it too once had a warm climate like New Zealand’s. Fossils from Antarctica suggest that birds in both places were closely related, says Dr Scofield.

这其中也包括了巨型动物。比如,生活在距今约 5900 万年前的巨型企鹅克罗斯瓦利亚·威帕朗西斯 (Crossvallia waiparensis)。与坎特伯雷博物馆团队密切合作的业余古生物学家利·乐福(Leigh Love)和阿尔·曼纳林(Al Mannering),在怀帕拉镇附近(基督城以北 60 公里)发现了这种企鹅的遗骸。这种此前不为人知的企鹅物种,是世界上最古老的企鹅之一。这表明,这些鸟类在进化早期就已经具有庞大的体型。巨型企鹅已知的近亲也是大型物种,生活在同时代的南极洲。尽管南极洲现在一片冰天雪地,但这里曾经也如新西兰一般气候温暖宜人。斯科菲尔德博士表示,南极洲发现的化石表明这两个地方的鸟类是近亲。

Other fossils found at Waipara include the remains of a “toothed” bird. This creature has been classified as a member of the Pelagornithidae, an ancient family of huge seafaring birds that had bony outgrowths which looked like teeth along their beaks. These pseudo-teeth (real teeth having disappeared from birds many millions of years previously) are thought to have helped them catch prey.


The Pelagornithidae include the largest birds known to have existed—some had wingspans of more than five metres. The specimen from Waipara is small by comparison, being about the size of an average gull. Because previous Pelagornithidae fossils come from the northern hemisphere it was assumed that this was where the group had evolved. But Protodontopteryx ruthae, which Mr Love named after his wife Ruth for tolerating his decades of fossil hunting, is of a greater age. It was soaring above New Zealand 62m years ago, soon after terrestrial dinosaurs died out. This suggests that the Pelagornithidae actually evolved in the southern hemisphere before spreading their wings across the rest of the world.

伪齿鸟科包括已知存在的最大的鸟类——有些翼展超过 5 米。相比之下,来自怀帕拉的标本还属于小型的,约为一只普通海鸥的大小。因为之前的伪齿鸟科化石来自北半球,所以人们认为北半球是该鸟类的进化之地。但是,乐福(Love)先生发现的原齿翼鸟更为古老。乐福(Love)先生以自己妻子露丝(Ruth)的名字给这种鸟类命名,感谢妻子包容他数十年的化石发掘事业。6200 万年前在陆地恐龙灭绝后不久,原齿翼鸟就在新西兰上空翱翔。这表明,伪齿鸟是在南半球进化的,随后飞往世界其他地方。

As P. ruthae shows, the great persity of life in ancient New Zealand was not confined to gigantism. Many unusual fossils of small animals are also being discovered—some so tiny that they need to be handled with tweezers, says Vanesa De Pietri, research curator at the museum.


One example is the waddling mouse. A small piece of jaw and a fragment of limb found near St Bathans were identified in 2006 as coming from a mouse-size mammal that walked, its remains suggest, with a peculiar waddle. Although some scientists reckon the creature might have washed ashore on flotsam, others see it as evidence that native land mammals did in fact exist in ancient New Zealand, and that the archipelago’s unique wildlife evolved in their presence. As fossils continue to be unearthed, even more unusual species will no doubt be discovered, and more questions raised about the origins of the creatures in the land of the long white cloud.

比如“步履蹒跚的老鼠”。2006 年,在圣巴桑附近发现了一小块下颌和一块肢体化石,被证明是来自于一种老鼠般大小的哺乳动物。这种生物有一种特殊的摇摇晃晃的步态。尽管一些科学家认为,它们可能是乘着某种漂浮物被冲上岸的,但也有科学家认为,这证明古代新西兰本土确实存在哺乳动物,而且群岛上独特的野生动物是由它们进化来的。随着化石的不断出土,无疑会有更多奇异的物种被发现,从而引引发人们对于这片“长白云之乡”上生物起源的探讨。


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