Colonization of an island volcano, Long Island, Papua New Guinea, and an emergent island, Motmot, in its caldera lake: VII. overview and discussion

Thornton, I.W.B., Cook, S., Edwards, J.S., Harrison, R.D., Shipper, C., Shanahan, M., Singadan, R., and Yamuna, R. (2001) Colonization of an island volcano, Long Island, Papua New Guinea, and an emergent island, Motmot, in its caldera lake: VII. overview and discussion. Journal of Biogeography, 28 (11-12). pp. 1389-1408.

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Location, aims: Long Island's biota was destroyed by volcanic eruption in c. 1645, and Motmot, an emergent island in its caldera lake, was re-created in 1968, providing a nested pair of natural colonization sequences. In 1999 we surveyed the plants and vertebrates of Long and the entire biota of Motmot for comparison with previous surveys of Long (1932, 1972, birds only) and Motmot (1969–88).

Results: The known flora of Long is 305 vascular plants (thirty-two pteridophytes, 273 spermatophytes), including thirty-one Ficus species, the sixteen fruiting all having pollinating wasps, and there were eleven species of effective fig dispersers. There were two frog species, a crocodile, a monitor, seven skinks, four geckos, a boid snake, fifty species non-migrant land birds, seven bats, two rats, a cuscus (probably introduced) and feral pigs, dogs, cats and chickens.

Most of Motmot's surface was barren or sparsely vegetated ash, cinder and lava fields. There were seven pteridophyte and thirty-eight spermatophyte species, including eight Ficus, and the cumulative known flora comprises eleven pteridophytes and fifty-one spermatophytes, mainly zoochorous and anemochorous, with sedges, grasses and herbs predominating. All Ficus individuals but one were small; three plants of two species bore syconia but had not been pollinated and had not set seed. Motmot's known invertebrate fauna comprises thirty-five species, mainly predators and scavengers; two spider and one ant species dominating. An insectivorous bat and eight land bird species (three breeding) were the only vertebrates.

Main conclusions: Long's biota comprised mainly widely distributed species with broad ecological tolerances, well-adapted for colonizing species-poor islands. The mid-level caldera plateau, as in 1932, was covered in fairly open forest of similar-sized trees with a few much larger individuals and little or no understorey. Primary rain forest tree species from the region were under-represented or absent but secondary forest species were common. There were few regional endemic Ficus species. The avifauna comprised species with good dispersal ability, lacked endemic subspecies and probably for at least the past seven decades has been held at a quasi-equilibrium of fifty species, fourteen below the theoretical number. More than half the fifty-four resident land birds known from Long (and three of the seven bats) are high class tramps in the sense of Diamond; only two birds are high-S species. Turnover has been low and none of the bird super tramps has been replaced. The non-avian fauna comprised mostly high-category tramptype species with relatively broad habitat requirements and extensive geographical ranges. Non-volant vertebrates comprised a number of highly vagile species associated with humans. Several groups, especially snakes and amphibians, were depauperate compared with the fauna of other islands in the area. Long's biota is evidently held at an arrested stage of development by some physical factor, possibly the extremely porous substratum and relatively dry climate.

The allochthonous input of lake insects to Motmot evidently provides the major energy source for its animal communities, with a very minor contribution from organic flotsam. Reflecting Motmot's very isolated situation, plant colonization has been slow, but when more fig individuals mature and fig–wasp populations become established fruit production should attract frugivores and start a positive feedback process which will accelerate the growth of Motmot's community.

Long's colonization shows similarities with that of Krakatau (Sunda Strait, Indonesia) after the 1883 eruption, and species shared by the two include a high proportion of pioneer species. Motmot's triple isolation (sea, land and fresh-water barriers) means that its colonization differs markedly from those on two marine emergent islands of the region, Tuluman (Admiralty Group) and Anak Krakatau.

Item ID: 13252
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1365-2699
Keywords: community assembly; dispersal; establishment; island colonization
Date Deposited: 30 Aug 2012 05:38
FoR Codes: 06 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 0603 Evolutionary Biology > 060302 Biogeography and Phylogeography @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970106 Expanding Knowledge in the Biological Sciences @ 100%
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