Long-term vegetation and climate history of the subantarctic islands

Assessing ecological change on New Zealand’s subantarctic islands since the last glaciation

The Landcare Research palaeoecology group have a long history of research on the vegetation and climate dynamics of the subantarctic Snares, Auckland and Campbell islands stretching back to the 1950s.

Our work has included studies of soils, vegetation, birds, insects and introduced plants and animals. We are the custodian of a record of vegetation change on Campbell Island in the form of repeat-remeasured vegetation plots and photo-points, as well as numerous archived peat cores, surface samples, and tree ring cores taken from the islands during three expeditions (1994, 1999 and 2013).

Current analyses of peat cores, tree ring cores and vegetation plots are underway to understand:

  • vegetation change in response to past climates
  • tree line ecotones in relation to plant functional traits
  • tree ring analyses in relation to treeline and recent climate change
  • the timing of establishment and process of invasion by the tree daisy (Olearia lyallii) on the Auckland Islands
  • the timing and spread of peat development on Campbell Island
  • detecting prehistoric and historic human impacts on the islands

Some papers relating to our subantarctic research


McGlone MS, Wilmshurst JM, Richardson SJ, Turney CS, Wood JR. 2019.Temperature, wind, cloud, and the postglacial tree line history of sub-antarctic Campbell Island. Forests. 10:998.

Palmer JG, Turney CSM,  Fogwill C, Fenwick P, Thomas Z, Lipson M, Jones RT, Beaven B, Richardson SJ, Wilmshurst JM 2018. Growth response of an invasive alien species to climate variations on subantarctic Campbell Island (52˚S). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 42: 1-9.

Wood, JR, Wilmshurst JM, Turney CSM, Fogwell, CJ. 2016. Palaeoecological signatures of vegetation change induced by herbivory regime shifts on subantarctic Enderby IslandQuaternary Science Reviews 134: 51-58.

Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Turney MSM. 2015. Long-term ecology resolves the timing, region of origin, and process of establishment for a disputed alien tree. Annals of Botany Plants 7: plv104.

Harsch  MA, McGlone MS, Wilmshurst JM. 2014. Winter climate limits subantarctic low forest growth and establishment. PLoS ONE 9: e93241.

McGlone  MS, Meurk CD 2000. Modern pollen rain, subantarctic Campbell Island, New ZealandNew Zealand Journal of Ecology 24: 181–194.

Long term vegetation and climate change

McGlone  MS 2002. The late quaternary peat, vegetation and climate history of the southern oceanic islands of New Zealand. Quaternary Science Reviews 21: 683–707.

McGlone  MS, Wilmshurst JM, Wiser SK 2000. Late-glacial and Holocene vegetation and climate change on Auckland Island, subantarctic New Zealand. The Holocene 10:  719–728.

Climate change and Pleistocene glacial history

Cooper A, Turney CSM, Palmer J, Hogg A, McGlone M, Wilmshurst J, Lorrey AM, Heaton TJ, Russell JM, McCracken K, Anet JG, Rozanov E, Friedel M, Suter I, Peter T, Muscheler R, Adolphi F, Dosseto A, Faith JT, Fenwick P, Fogwill CJ, Hughen K, Lipson M, Liu J, Nowaczyk N, Rainsley E, Bronk Ramsey C, Sebastianelli P, Souilmi Y, Stevenson J, Thomas Z, Tobler R, Zech R. 2021. A global environmental crisis 42,000 years agoScience 371, 811-818.

Turney CSM, Fogwill CJ, Palmer JG, van Sebille E, Thomas Z, McGlone M, Richardson S, Wilmshurst JM, et al. 2017. Tropical forcing of increased Southern Ocean climate variability revealed by a 140-year subantarctic temperature reconstruction. Climates of the Past 13: 231-248.

Turney CSM, McGlone, MS, Palmer, J, Fogwill C, Hogg A, Thomas Z, Lipson M, Wilmshurst JM, Fenwick P, Jones R, Hines B, Clark G. 2016. Intensification of Southern Hemisphere westerly winds 2000 to 1000 Years Ago: Evidence from the Subantarctic Campbell and Auckland Islands (52-50˚S)Journal of Quaternary Science 31: 12-19.

Rainsley, E., Turney CSM, Golledge NR, Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS, Hogg AG, Thomas ZA, Flett V, Palmer JG, Richard T, de Wet G, Hutchinson DK, Lipson MJ, Fenwick P, Hines BR, Binetti U, Fogwill C. 2019. Pleistocene glacial history of the New Zealand subantarctic islandsClimates of the Past 15 (2), 423-448.

Turney C, Fogwill C, Palmer J, van Sebille E, Thomas Z, McGlone M, Richardson SJ, Wilmshurst JM, Fenwick P, Zunz V, Goosse H, Wilson K-J, Carter L, Lipson M, Jones RT, Harsch M, Clark G, Marzinelli E, Rogers T,  Rainsley E, Ciasto L, Waterman S, Thomas ER, Visbeck M. 2016 Tropical forcing of increased Southern Ocean climate variability revealed by a 140-year subantarctic temperate reconstructionClimate of the Past Discussions. 1-24.

Key contact

Contact Janet Wilmshurst Janet Wilmshurst

Key collaborators

Matt McGlone, Chris Turney and Jonathan Palmer (University of New South Wales); Sarah Richardson (Manaaki Whenua -Landcare Research)


Manaaki Whenua-Landcare Research SSIF