Middle Earth preserved in giant bird dung

Image caption: Moa skull. Image courtesy Patrick Bürgler/Flickr.

While the giant birds that once dominated New Zealand are all extinct, a study of their preserved dung (coprolites) has revealed many aspects of their ancient ecosystem, with important insights for ongoing conservation efforts.

Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the studyb y the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) and Landcare Research NZ reconstructed the prehuman New Zealand ecosystem using coprolites ranging from 120 to 1500 years old.

The ancient dried dung originated from four species of extinct giant moa and the critically endangered kakapo parrot, and contained genetic records of diet, pathogens, and the behaviour of the birds. Such detailed pictures of the pre-historic ecosystem are critical for present-day ecological restoration efforts, but are not available from the conventional fossil record of preserved skeletons.

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Image: Moa skull. Image courtesy Patrick Bürgler/Flickr.

Tagged in Research, School of Biological Sciences, Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, School of Physical Sciences, Genetics

Competition: Young Scientist of the Year

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