Giant bird poo records pre-historic New Zealand

January 13th, 2009 - 12:31 pm ICT by ANI  

Washington, Jan 13 (ANI): Scientists have found faeces from giant extinct birds, buried beneath the floor of caves and rock shelters for thousands of years in New Zealand, which reveal a treasure trove of information about the country during prehistoric times.

Jamie Wood, from the University of Otago, discovered more than 1500 faeces (coprolites) in remote areas across southern New Zealand, primarily from species of the extinct giant moa, which ranged up to 250 kilograms and three meters in height.

Some of the faeces recovered were up to 15 centimeters in length.

A team of ancient DNA and paleontology researchers from the University of Adelaide, University of Otago and the NZ Department of Conservation analyzed plant seeds, leaf fragments and DNA from the dried coprolites to start building the first detailed picture of an ecosystem dominated by giant extinct species.

Surprisingly for such large birds, over half the plants we detected in the faeces were under 30 centimeters in height, said Dr Wood.

This suggests that some moa grazed on tiny herbs, in contrast to the current view of them as mainly shrub and tree browsers. We also found many plant species that are currently threatened or rare, suggesting that the extinction of the moa has impacted their ability to reproduce or disperse, he added.

According to Professor Alan Cooper, Director of the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, which performed the DNA typing, New Zealand offers a unique chance to reconstruct how a megafaunal ecosystem functioned.

You cant do this elsewhere in the world because the giant species became extinct too long ago, so you don”t get such a diverse record of species and habitats, he added.

Critically, the interactions between animals and plants we see in the poo provides key information about the origins and background to our current environment, and predicting how it will respond to future climate change and extinctions, he explained. (ANI)

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