Discovery of the first amber fossils from New Zealand
Palaeontologists find fossils from a large amber deposit in the Southern Hemisphere
An international team of scientists led by palaeontologists Professor Alexander Schmidt of the University of Göttingen (Germany) and Professor Daphne Lee from the University of Otago in Dunedin (New Zealand) has discovered the first fossils preserved in amber from New Zealand. At several locations the team found spiders, mites, midges, beetles and other arthropods as well as fungi that have been preserved in amber for up to 25 million years. The results were published in the journal Gondwana Research.
Amber, fossilized tree resin, preserves organisms with microscopic fidelity, providing access to delicate organisms that are otherwise rare or even absent from the fossil record. However, amber deposits are concentrated in the Northern Hemisphere where their inclusions have been studied intensively. Until now, the paucity of major amber deposits from the Southern Hemisphere has severely hampered our understanding of the global evolutionary history of terrestrial invertebrate and fungal biotas.
“Our newly discovered fossiliferous amber from New Zealand shows that amber also exists in significant amounts in the Southern Hemisphere. The amber and its inclusions help shed new light on New Zealand’s complex geological and biological history”, Alexander Schmidt says.
The newly found fossils from the Oligocene and Miocene Epochs are 25 to 15 million years old and comprise representatives of 10 orders and approximately 20 families of terrestrial arthropods as well as various fungi and plant remains. The diverse arthropod fossils from New Zealand amber include predators such as spiders (including web remains with prey), tiny carnivores such as pseudoscorpions, diverse soil-dwelling mites, detritivores such as springtails, biting and gall midges, fungus gnats and chironomids, scale insects, parasitoid wasps, ants, beetles, and bark lice. “Some of the arthropods and fungi represent the first fossil records of their groups from the entire Southern Hemisphere” Daphne Lee explains.
The amber derives from the ancestors of the Kauri trees, conifers of the Araucariaceae family still living today in northern New Zealand and still producing much resin. “This means that the source of the resin has remained unchanged for at least the past 25 million years. The amber fossils help in understanding the evolution of these long-lasting forest ecosystems on a geologic time scale”, Professor Lee adds.
The study involved 27 researchers from 16 institutions in eight countries.
Original publication: Schmidt, A. R. et al. (2018): Amber inclusions from New Zealand. Gondwana Research, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.gr.2017.12.003
Prof. Dr. Alexander Schmidt
Geowissenschaftliches Zentrum – Abteilung Geobiologie
Goldschmidtstraße 3, 37077 Göttingen