New Caledonia

Country/Territory New Caledonia (to France)
Area 19,000 km2
Altitude 0 - 1600 m
Priority critical
Habitat loss major
Knowledge poor

General characteristics

This EBA comprises the French overseas territory of New Caledonia, which includes the island of New Caledonia itself (Grande Terre, 16,372 km2), the nearby Loyalty Islands of Ouvéa, Lifou and Maré (c.1,970 km2 in all), and a number of smaller islands (e.g. Île des Pins). Grande Terre is continental in origin, believed once to have been part of the ancient landmass of Gondwanaland and attached to the Queensland plateau (now in Australia). The Loyalty group consists of raised limestone islands and is of more recent origin.

Grande Terre is by far the most diverse of the islands ecologically, and it has an exceptionally rich flora (c.3,000 species) with high endemism (c.80%) including five endemic plant families (Jaffré et al. 1994, WWF/IUCN 1994-1995). This unique vegetation has led to the island being classified by many botanists as a distinct phytogeographic province (Morat et al. 1984), explicable largely by its long history of isolation (having been separated from Australia in the early Cretaceous period), but also in part by the great variety of its soil types, notably those on ultrabasic rocks where species endemism exceeds 90%.

The predominant vegetation type is a unique scrubland community-known as maquis (typical of regions with a Mediterranean-type climate)-which is largely confined to nutrient-poor ultrabasic soils at varying altitudes. Lowland rain forest, with montane and cloud forest above, is scattered over the central mountain chain (which reaches a maximum altitude of 1,628 m on Mt Panié in the north). These forests are particularly well represented in the east, which is affected during most of the year by the south-east trade winds and has a warm damp tropical climate. Other habitats which are important for some of the restricted-range birds include dry forest (now largely replaced by savanna) along the western, drier, coastal plain from sea-level to 300 m, and mangroves, which occur mostly along the western coastline where the estuaries of the main rivers are wider and deeper than on the steeper east.

The native habitat on the Loyalty Islands is also forest, though, with fewer than plant 400 species, this lacks the main island's great diversity (Jaffré 1993).

Restricted-range species

New Caledonia is among the Pacific region's top EBAs for the number of endemic restricted-range bird species. Most restricted-range species occur in forest in the lowlands and at mid altitudes, but more precise information on altitudinal and habitat preferences appears to be lacking.

The majority of the endemics are found widely on Grande Terre and its satellite islands, notable exceptions being Gymnomyza aubryana, which is apparently confined to the south of Grande Terre, and the two white-eyes Zosterops, which are endemic to Lifou. Several of the more-widespread restricted-range birds also occur further north in Melanesia (EBAs 198-200), and a couple occur eastwards into Central Polynesia (EBAs 202, 203).

In general, distributional information on the EBA-s restricted-range species is poor. Gallirallus lafresnayanus, for example, has not been reliably reported by ornithologists since early in the twentieth century, though local reports suggest that it could still survive in small numbers, perhaps in forest at higher altitudes; Charmosyna diadema was last observed in 1913 although islanders again report that it might yet exist in remote cloud forests, and two birds were reported by an experienced bushman in forest west of Mt Panié in 1976; and Aegotheles savesi, also assumed to occur in forest, is known only from one specimen collected in 1880 near to the capital Nouméa and one individual reported as having been killed by a hunter in 1960. All these three species have been listed as extinct by some sources (e.g. King 1978-1979).

Species IUCN Category
Kagu (Rhynochetos jubatus) EN
New Caledonian Imperial-pigeon (Ducula goliath) NT
Cloven-feathered Dove (Drepanoptila holosericea) NT
Red-bellied Fruit-dove (Ptilinopus greyi) LC
New Caledonian Owlet-nightjar (Aegotheles savesi) CR
New Caledonian Rail (Gallirallus lafresnayanus) CR
White-bellied Goshawk (Accipiter haplochrous) NT
Horned Parakeet (Eunymphicus cornutus) VU
New Caledonian Lorikeet (Charmosyna diadema) CR
Grey-eared Honeyeater (Lichmera incana) LC
Crow Honeyeater (Gymnomyza aubryana) CR
New Caledonian Friarbird (Philemon diemenensis) LC
New Caledonian Myzomela (Myzomela caledonica) LC
Cardinal Myzomela (Myzomela cardinalis) LC
Barred Honeyeater (Gliciphila undulata) LC
(Gerygone flavolateralis) NR
New Caledonian Whistler (Pachycephala caledonica) LC
(Coracina caledonica) NR
New Caledonian Cicadabird (Edolisoma anale) NT
Long-tailed Triller (Lalage leucopyga) LC
(Rhipidura verreauxi) NR
Melanesian Flycatcher (Myiagra caledonica) LC
Southern Shrikebill (Clytorhynchus pachycephaloides) LC
New Caledonian Crow (Corvus moneduloides) LC
Yellow-bellied Robin (Cryptomicroeca flaviventris) LC
New Caledonian Thicketbird (Cincloramphus mariae) LC
Large Lifou White-eye (Zosterops inornatus) LC
Small Lifou White-eye (Zosterops minutus) LC
Green-backed White-eye (Zosterops xanthochroa) LC
Striated Starling (Aplonis striata) LC
Red-throated Parrotfinch (Erythrura psittacea) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
NC017 Aoupinié New Caledonia (to France)
NC020 Boulinda New Caledonia (to France)
NC028 Bwa Opana New Caledonia (to France)
NC031 Dent de Saint-Vincent New Caledonia (to France)
NC010 District de Wetr à Lifou New Caledonia (to France)
NC026 Entre les monts Nakada et Do New Caledonia (to France)
NC025 Entre les monts Rembaï et Canala New Caledonia (to France)
NC024 Entre Table Unio et Farino New Caledonia (to France)
NC016 Forêt Plate New Caledonia (to France)
NC015 Goro Até et haute vallée de la rivière Tchamba New Caledonia (to France)
NC014 Goro Jé et haute vallée de la rivière Amoa New Caledonia (to France)
NC030 Grand Koum New Caledonia (to France)
NC022 Hautes vallées des rivières Néaoua, Koua et Kouaoua New Caledonia (to France)
NC009 Île d'Ouvéa New Caledonia (to France)
NC011 Île de Yandé New Caledonia (to France)
NC003 Île Walpole New Caledonia (to France)
NC006 Îlots du Nord-Ouest New Caledonia (to France)
NC013 Massif des Lèvres New Caledonia (to France)
NC019 Massif du Mé Kanin, Sphinx et Arago New Caledonia (to France)
NC012 Massif du Panié New Caledonia (to France)
NC032 Massifs du Grand Sud - entre le mont Humboldt et la rivière Bleue New Caledonia (to France)
NC021 Mé Maoya New Caledonia (to France)
NC027 Pic Ningua New Caledonia (to France)
NC018 Presqu'île de Pindaï New Caledonia (to France)
NC023 Prokoméo New Caledonia (to France)

Threat and conservation

On Grande Terre, most of the lowland coastal plains have been cleared for grazing or altered by plantations and agriculture, while logging and open-cast mining (the island has c.50% of the world's known nickel deposits) have destroyed forest and maquis in the upper parts of certain massifs (Dupon 1986a), the resulting erosion being some of the worst anywhere in the world. Bush fires, which are started in the dry season to regenerate grazing lands or to clean overgrown cultivated fields, are the principal threat to remaining native vegetation, as they spread into forest edge and maquis.

Today c.50% of the land area of Grande Terre is covered by secondary forest, savanna (dominated mainly by the fire-resistant tree, niaouli Melaleuca quinquenervia) and grassland. The most extensive areas of remaining native habitat are rain forest, occupying c.20% of the territory (though only 10% of this forest can be considered undisturbed), and maquis, covering c.24% (Mittermeier et al. 1996). Pristine stands of dry forest probably occupy less than 100 km2, c.2% of their original extent, with grazing and trampling by cattle and introduced deer preventing regeneration (Bouchet et al. 1995).

Although logging is now restricted to a few small areas, even these localized operations can have a significant impact, as forest has already been severely depleted by past activities. Several restricted-range species are likely to have declining populations and are consequently classified as threatened: for example, Eunymphicus cornutus which exists as two races, cornutus on the mainland (estimated to number 2,000-10,000 individuals) and uvaeensis on Ouvéa where the total population is estimated at c.600 birds, with illegal capture for trade an additional threat (Robinet et al. 1995, 1996; see also Robinet and Salas 1996). Hunting is another problem for some species-e.g. Ducula goliath, the world's largest living arboreal pigeon as new areas are opened up by logging and prospecting.

Introduced mammalian predators are of particular concern for Rhynochetos jubatus (living only on Grande Terre), the sole representative of its family (and New Caledonia's national bird), with eggs being eaten by wild pigs, chicks being killed by dogs, cats and rats (Y. Létocart in litt. 1996), and adults being killed by hunting and feral dogs (Hannecart 1988, Hunt et al.1996). In 1991-1992, 491 adult R. jubatus were censused in unprotected areas; here the species had a patchy, mostly inland distribution in the less-disturbed mountainous parts, with few birds recorded from logged areas or within 4 km of human settlements. This figure, combined with the 163 birds (including juveniles) counted in the Rivière Bleue Park (Létocart 1992), brought the known numbers of R. jubatus to 654 in early 1992 (Hunt 1996a).

Increasing fragmentation of habitat is a particular risk for the more sedentary species, e.g. Rhynochetos jubatus and Corvus moneduloides, where pairs require large, mostly non-overlapping forest territories in which to breed. Localized extinctions may also result in loss of behavioural as well as genetic diversity within species: for example, altitude-related variation exists in the roosting behaviour of R. jubatus, and site-specific differences in tool-using behaviour by C. moneduloides may be considerable (Hunt 1996 a, b).

Two widespread threatened species also occur on New Caledonia: Australasian Bittern Botaurus poiciloptilus (classified as Endangered) and Fairy Tern Sterna nereis (Vulnerable), but there are few data on their status in this EBA. Seabirds are likely to be threatened by disturbance, especially as people are able to explore further afield in increasingly sophisticated boats, and reach islands that were previously protected by their isolation (and therefore often important nesting sites) (M. Pandolfi-Benoit per A. Duncan verbally 1996).

There are 26 gazetted terrestrial nature reserves on Grande Terre, including 13 Special Botanical Reserves, five Special Faunal Reserves, two Special Botanical/Faunal Reserves and five Provincial Parks of varying sizes, amounting to c.490 km2 or c.3% of the island’s total land area. However, the majority of these sites are protected on paper only due to lack of money (Chardonnet and Lartiges 1992); in addition, some are in areas with mining concessions and could therefore be exploited in the future, many of those with rain forest have already been selectively logged, and some may now be so degraded that there may no longer be much justification for their conservation. A notable exception is the Rivière Bleue Park, which is wardened and managed, and is the only site where populations of Rhynochetos jubatus are increasing as a result of control of introduced predators (pigs, dogs, etc.). The park covers a very important remnant of forest, selectively exploited until c.20 years ago, and has populations of all the breeding endemic birds.

In addition to nature reserves, there are large areas gazetted for watershed protection, but this designation offers little conservation benefit for fauna and flora (G. R. Hunt in litt. 1996). No reserves of any kind have been gazetted in the Loyalty Islands and the existing reserves containing dry forest are considered inadequate by Bouchet et al. (1995).

Mittermeier et al. (1996) note the fact that New Caledonia is not currently eligible for international biodiversity funds because it is the territory of a developed country rather than being an independent nation, and that conservation has not been a high priority for France or for the regional government. They recommend an assessment of remaining natural areas (focusing particularly on existing protected areas) and a review of existing biological knowledge in order to assess better the geographic priorities for conservation in this extremely important EBA.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: New Caledonia. Downloaded from http://datazone.birdlife.org/eba/search on 03/06/2023.