此團隊成員之一、也是阿德雷德大學澳洲古DNA中心代理主任的奧斯丁博士（Dr. Jeremy Austin）表示：「我們的發現證明了我們過去所知有誤，原來目前紐西蘭主島上的黃眼企鵝並不是過去為數眾多、到如今才凋零殘留的一群。黃眼企鵝是來自亞南極區的新客，取代了現今已滅絕的瓦塔哈企鵝。」
該團隊的研究發現已經在週刊登於國際生物學研究期刊《皇家學會學報B部份：生物學專刊》（Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences）。
A species of penguin that has been extinct for at least 500 years has been discovered and identified in New Zealand.
Named the Waitaha penguin by a team of biologists from the University of Otago, University of Adelaide and Canterbury Museum, the newly identified penguin once lived on the shores of New Zealand's South Island.
The scientists had set out to investigate changes in the population of the endangered yellow-eyed penguin since human settlement in New Zealand and were startled to discover the previously unknown penguin species.
Led by Otago Zoology PhD student Sanne Boessenkool, the researchers identified the extinct Waitaha penguin using ancient DNA from prehistoric bones, combined with traditional techniques, such as studying bone structures.
"It is estimated that the so-called Waitaha Penguin became extinct between 1300 and 1500 AD, soon after Polynesian settlement," she said.
"The penguin's extinction, combined with Maori cultural shifts and changes in predator populations, created an opportunity for the yellow-eyed penguin to colonize New Zealand's mainland around 500 years ago," she said.
"Our findings demonstrate that yellow-eyed penguins on mainland New Zealand are not a declining remnant of a previous abundant population, but came from the sub-Antarctic relatively recently and replaced the extinct Waitaha Penguin," said team member Dr. Jeremy Austin, deputy director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide.
"Previous analysis of fossil records and anecdotal evidence suggested that the yellow-eyed penguin was more abundant and widespread in the past, but it now appears they have only been around for 500 years," he said.
"We found that the extinct species was closely related to the yellow-eyed penguin, which is now assumed to be a relatively recent arrival from the subantarctic Auckland and Campbell Islands," Boessenkool said.
"Competition between the two species may have previously prevented the yellow-eyed penguin from expanding northwards," said Dr. Austin, "but environmental changes in the predator population, such as the severe decline of sea lions, might have facilitated their colonization in the South Island."
The yellow-eyed penguin is considered one of the world's rarest penguin species, with an estimated population of 7,000 in New Zealand.
The world's third-largest penguin species, it is the focus of an extensive conservation effort. The main threats include habitat degradation and introduced predators as well as environmental changes.
The team's findings are published this week in the international biological research journal "Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences."