Avifauna from the teouma lapita site, efate Island, vanuatu, including a new genus and species of megapode

Trevor H. Worthy, Stuart Hawkins, Stuart Bedford, Matthew Spriggs

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    The avifauna of the Teouma archaeological site on Efate in Vanuatu is described. It derives from the Lapita levels (3,000-2,800 ybp) and immediately overlying middens extending to ?2,500 ybp. A total of 30 bird species is represented in the 1,714 identified specimens. Twelve species are new records for the island, which, added to previous records, indicates that minimally 39 land birds exclusive of passerines were in the original avifauna. Three-fourths of the 12 newly recorded species appear to have become extinct by the end of Lapita times, 2,800 ybp. The avifauna is dominated by eight species of columbids (47.5% Minimum Number Individuals [MNI]) including a large extinct tooth-billed pigeon, Didunculus placopedetes from Tonga, and a giant Ducula sp. cf. D. goliath from New Caledonia. Seabirds are rare despite the coastal location of the site. Fowl are important contributors to the Teouma avifauna, with the human-introduced Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus accounting for 15% MNI and present in all sampled layers. There are two species of megapodes (?10% of MNI), with the extant Vanuatu Megapode Megapodius layardi most abundant and represented at all levels in the deposits. A substantially larger extinct megapode, Mwalau walterlinii, n. gen., n. sp., is present only in the Lapita midden area, where it is relatively rare. This extinct species was larger than all extant megapodes but smaller than the extinct Progura gallinacea from Australia, with proportions most similar to those of Alectura, and was a volant bird. The remaining significant faunal component is rails, with four species present, of which Porphyrio melanotus was the most abundant. Rare but notable records include an undescribed large rail; a parrot, Eclectus sp. cf. E. infectus; a hornbill, Rhyticeros sp. cf. R. plicatus; and a coucal, Centropus sp. indet., all conservatively considered likely to be conspecific with known taxa elsewhere in Melanesia.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)205-254
    JournalPacific Science
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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