The macaque’s voyage?

The Monkey’s Voyage was one of the more interesting books I’ve read in the past few years. Basically the author shows that the idea that islands like New Zealand are living mengaries of a lost Gondwanaland is false. Due to extinction islands have high turnover rates, and most species in New Zealand descend from relatively recent arrivals.

And how do they arrive? Larger animals like New World monkeys, probably on rafts made of driftwood.

I thought of that book when reading this fascinating article in The Atlantic, Japanese Animals Are Still Washing Up in America After The 2011 Tsunami:

In the last five years, he and his colleagues have documented 634 pieces of debris that were swept away by the Tōhoku tsunami and eventually washed up on the coasts of North America. And it hasn’t stopped coming yet. Between them, these bits of ocean-hopping junk carried 289 species that are typically found along Japanese coasts—a vast horde of sponges, sea stars, sea anemones, mussels, limpets, barnacles, and fish.

Partly, that might be because the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake was one of the strongest in history. But Carlton thinks that it’s also because humans have changed the world, by just introducing a lot more stuff to it. “A similar tsunami occurred in the same place in 1933,” he says. “We’ve looked at photos of that coast in 1933, and there are small villages with wooden homes. Advance to 2011, and we have a vast infrastructure. In the last 50 years, we’ve poised, on the edge of the world, this massive amount of material that’s ready to be washed into the ocean.”

2 thoughts on “The macaque’s voyage?

  1. i’ve often thought about that and how far fetched it seems. i know there’s been a few sightings of these “land flotillas” that could’ve had primates on them sometime over the millions of years but…could we ever know? wouldn’t that mean a very very small bottleneck or could that even be tested genetically, since it’s so ancient? i can’t think of a better explanation but could monkeys really be in the exact right spot of land that breaks off, float all the way to south america and not only survive the trip but give birth to a new colony?

  2. Yeah, the rafting is a bit hard to imagine. The Malagasy Strepsirrhines are supposed to have rafted there as well. I guess there is no better solution right now since we’ve stopped imagining land bridges going everywhere, but still, it’s a bit weird…

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