New Zealand

New Zealand provides a manageable case study of the process of ecological transformation--the creation of a neo-Europe
historians don't just make generalizations, they look at how the story unfolds in a particular time and place
how do you decide any given example is typical? or do you want to use an extreme example because it highlights the issues

It was particularly unique because of its extreme isolation

one way to think about an ecosystem is as a series of niches--ecological opportunities
what fills these niches if the usual animals aren't there?
giant weta--half
              as big as a hand
giant weta
an insect that takes the ecological niche of a mouse--
unfortunately cats think them great entertainment

Another animal filling the niche of the mouse was the Stephens Island Wren

Stephens Island WrenA flightless songbird--one of only three flightless songbirds ever known and the world's smallest

the largest flightless birds, the moas, filled the niche of grazing animals
giant moa bigger than the hunter chasing it with a
All 11 species of Moa were hunted to extinction by the Maori in the 13th and 14th century.  They only laid one or two eggs at a time and took 10 years to grow to maturity so were wiped out easily.

"Second only in weight to the extinct elephant bird of Madagascar, the largest moa was the tallest bird on earth, with the top of its' back 6 feet above the ground" (source)

The largest Moa still weighed over 500 lbs.  They ate mostly bushes and the lower branches of trees.  Their beaks were strong, able

The Haast's eagle, with wingspan of 3 meters, preyed on the Moa and died out with it

Haasts eagle attaching moas

The environment needed to be transformed to make it appealing to European settlers
compare to other natives the Europeans met:
Maori Warrior
Maori adopted European ways with enthusiasm
(more Maori history) Maori were very vulnerable to disease:
then the Europeans started to settle
Maori war dance with guns

Europeans took control of the land by force
  • Europeans had developed the expectation that they could replace the native people
  • in North and Central America disease was the largest factor
  • sometimes ecology played as large a role
  • they succeeded where they had an ecological advantage, as in New Zealand
  • they changed the ecosystem from the native one to a European one
  • in South Africa Europeans had a bigger cultural advantage, but they failed because they didn't have an ecological advantage
  • warfare, disease and changing the ecology were parts of how the Europeans succeeded almost everywhere, but the balance varied from place to place
How does this case study support Crosby's arguments?
  • Europeans had biological advantages that allowed them to take over
  • Why?
  • they were already resistant to the diseases they brought with them
    • the places they went to had few diseases because of isolation
    • Europe had many diseases because they spread over a large land mass, dense population, and many domestic animals
  • sheer numbers--Europeans settled and compromised with the indigenous people until their increase and the the decrease in the native population caused by diseases gave them the advantage

  • changed the ecosystem to one that suited them
    • Europeans wouldn't want to settle unless they could have familiar plants and animals
    • they would have had a harder time feeding themselves if they had been dependent on native plants and animals
    • the spread of European plants and animals may have put the Maori at a disadvantage
  • as well as biological advantages, Europeans had technological advantages--particularly over cultures like the Maori that didn't have metal.  Also Europeans had a government and economic system suited for taking control of other people's land

This page written and copyright Pamela E. Mack
last updated 2/3/10
Hist 124