"The distinctive Fijian iguanas are famous for their beauty and also their unusual occurrence in the middle of the Pacific Ocean because all of their closest relatives are in the Americas," said Scott Keogh, an Associate Professor at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, and lead author of the study.
The highest islands of Fiji have been continuously above sea level for at least the last 16 million years, and the current study's findings suggest that the Pacific iguanas, both extinct and living, were likely on the islands much of that time. Ancestors of the Pacific iguanas may have arrived up to 13 million years ago after making a 5,000 mile rafting trip from the New World.
Realizing that scientists are just now describing the diversity in even such colorful and distinctive groups as Pacific iguanas is important in setting biodiversity targets for the Pacific Basin.
"This island basin is currently under attack by a number of invasive species such as the brown tree snake, various rat species and the coqui frog, which tend to reduce biodiversity," said Fisher. "Climate change may reduce coastal habitats and alter coastlines in the Pacific, further putting biodiversity at risk. A more accurate understanding of the patterns and processes that impact diversity in these unique island groups will help land managers set appropriate goals for conservation of these resources."
|Contact: Robert Fisher|
United States Geological Survey