Monday, 1 September 2014 4:40pm
A landmark publication about New Zealand’s iconic reptile, the tuatara, has been released by Canterbury University Press (CUP).
Tuatara: Biology and conservation of a venerable survivor, is the culmination of almost 30 years of research on tuatara and their conservation management by author and University of Otago biologist Dr Alison Cree.
The first detailed monograph on the species for decades, Tuatara outlines the unique evolution of this distinct reptile, from the journey of its ancestors over hundreds of millions of years through major geological events and the arrival of humans, to the survival of modern-day tuatara on remote islands off the coast of New Zealand and in mainland eco-sanctuaries.
Tuatara also explores their natural history and conservation, as well as the special place of tuatara in Māori and popular culture.
“New Zealand is the only place in the world where rhynchocephalian reptiles exist – it’s an important part of the evolutionary history of vertebrates and a global responsibility to see it continue,” Dr Cree said.
“I wanted to explain to readers the wealth of discoveries that have been made about the evolutionary history of rhynchocephalians – the group to which tuatara belong – and following from this, the more sophisticated view we now have of the evolutionary status of tuatara.
“In short, the tuatara genus (Sphenodon) is important not because it is unchanged, as has often been assumed, but because it is the last representative of a once-major group. I make a case for considering it as a ‘last survivor’ rather than a ‘living fossil’.”
Dr Cree said she wanted to write a book that would benefit a wide range of readers including biologists, university students, natural historians, zoo keepers, science historians and conservation managers.
“Ever since I began studying tuatara as a keen young postdoctoral researcher, I’ve felt the lack of comprehensive and up-to-date resource about the biology of tuatara. I hope my book is able to fill that gap and help stimulate new research and attention in a time of global change,” she said.
Dr Cree said Tuatara reveals a plethora of fascinating information about tuatara including the practice of having them as pets in the late 1800s.
“Tuatara were sometimes kept as pets in the late 1800s and early 1900s. There are some fascinating newspaper accounts of ladies who allowed tuatara, in a ‘domesticated state’, to nestle in their laps, and press their heads against the ladies’ cheeks. A man from the Bay of Plenty used to pull his pet tuatara from within his clothing, sometimes frightening local shop assistants in the process.
“I discovered when writing the book how wide the fascination is with tuatara within the human community. I experienced the generosity of many who, in sharing their knowledge and curiosity, have helped this book become what it is.”
About the author
Dr Alison Cree is an associate professor of zoology at the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. She is the author of more than 100 scientific publications, and has also studied the biology of New Zealand lizards and frogs.
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