Researchers have uncovered ancient fungi and insect fossils that are millions of years old and, in some cases, the oldest historical record found of the plants and animals in the Southern Hemisphere.
A University of Otago team of paleontologists led international scientists in the breakthrough research mission, collecting fossils from amber deposits from over 30 sites in New Zealand.
The fossils range in size from 15-25 million years old and give an insight into the types of animals and plants that were around at that time including fungi, ants, beetles and a number of spiders, some preserved with their webs holding the remains of prey.
University of Otago Palaeontologist Dr Uwe Kaulfuss says the fossils are significant because of what they tell us about the country's ecological history, as a long-isolated former Gondwanan landmass.
"These fossils are really important for us because they provide a very rare opportunity to look back on what made up New Zealand's forest and ecosystem 25 million-years-ago."
"We now know what kind of animals and plants were around at that time and what has gone extinct since then.''
Hundreds of kilograms of amber - or fossilised tree resin - were extracted from over 30 coal deposit sites, which had preserved the delicate life forms that are often absent from existing fossil records, Dr Kaulfass said.
The often brittle or fractured amber makes studying it difficult but new techniques developed in the laboratory of Professor Alexander Schmidt in Germany helped reveal numerous fossils with 3D preservation.
The Marsden-funded study, which involved 27 researchers from 16 institutions in eight countries, was published online this week in the journal Gondwana Research.