Giant bird feces records pre-human New Zealand

Jan 12, 2009
Giant bird feces records pre-human New Zealand
Giant moa bird. Image courtesy iStockphoto.

(PhysOrg.com) -- A treasure trove of information about pre-human New Zealand has been found in faeces from giant extinct birds, buried beneath the floor of caves and rock shelters for thousands of years.

A team of ancient DNA and palaeontology researchers from the University of Adelaide, University of Otago and the NZ Department of Conservation have published their analyses of plant seeds, leaf fragments and DNA from the dried faeces (coprolites) to start building the first detailed picture of an ecosystem dominated by giant extinct species.

Former PhD student Jamie Wood, from the University of Otago, discovered more than 1500 coprolites in remote areas across southern New Zealand, primarily from species of the extinct giant moa, which ranged up to 250 kilograms and three metres in height. Some of the faeces recovered were up to 15 centimetres in length.

'"Surprisingly for such large birds, over half the plants we detected in the faeces were under 30 centimetres in height," says 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."

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

"You can't 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. 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."

"When animals shelter in caves and rock shelters, they leave faeces which can survive for thousands of years if dried out," Professor Cooper says. "Given the arid conditions, Australia should probably have similar deposits from the extinct giant marsupials. A key question for us is 'where has all the Australian poo gone?' ".

The team's findings have recently been published in Quaternary Science Reviews, an international geological research journal.

Journal: www.elsevier.com/wps/find/journaldescription.cws_home/636/description#description

Provided by University of Adelaide

Explore further: Rules aim to protect imperiled bird's habitat in 10 states

Related Stories

Godwits are flexible... when they get the chance

2 hours ago

Black-tailed godwits are able to cope with unpredictable weather. This was revealed by a thorough analysis of the extraordinary spring of 2013 by ecologist Nathan Senner of the University of Groningen and ...

After security scandal, a tech firm says it's changing focus

7 hours ago

A Silicon Valley startup says it's shutting down operations and shifting to a new business model after it was blamed earlier this year for turning unwitting computer users into targets for annoying web ads—and hackers.

Dawn spirals closer to Ceres, returns a new view

8 hours ago

A new view of Ceres, taken by NASA's Dawn spacecraft on May 23, shows finer detail is becoming visible on the dwarf planet. The spacecraft snapped the image at a distance of 3,200 miles (5,100 kilometers) ...

Recommended for you

Godwits are flexible... when they get the chance

2 hours ago

Black-tailed godwits are able to cope with unpredictable weather. This was revealed by a thorough analysis of the extraordinary spring of 2013 by ecologist Nathan Senner of the University of Groningen and ...

Rules aim to protect imperiled bird's habitat in 10 states

9 hours ago

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell revealed plans Thursday to preserve habitat in 10 Western states for an imperiled ground-dwelling bird, the federal government's biggest land-planning effort to date for conservation of a single ...

Understanding how cells follow electric fields

11 hours ago

Many living things can respond to electric fields, either moving or using them to detect prey or enemies. Weak electric fields may be important growth and development, and in wound healing: it's known that ...

User comments : 10

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

QubitTamer
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
Holy ancient S&#^!
WolfAtTheDoor
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
Dear "Former PhD student Jamie Wood, from the University of Otago",

You should have studied Astrophysics, instead.
boredWithScience
5 / 5 (1) Jan 12, 2009
Come on Australia, get your S&#^! together.
Sophos
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
Wolf if Jamie can't get a Ph.D. in poo how can he make it in Astrophysics?
Mercury_01
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
Hey, any headline with the word feces in it is an instant winner in my book.
stirfry
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
'where has all the Australian poo gone? - That's easy - http://www.imdb.c...0455824/
malapropism
not rated yet Jan 12, 2009
Sophos, the reference to Jamie Wood being a "former Ph.D student" does not indicate that s/he failed to gain a Doctorate, indeed, the immediately following paragraph refers to him/her as "Dr Wood". ("Jamie" is not necessarily exclusively a male name.)
Commentateur
2.3 / 5 (3) Jan 12, 2009
Endangered Feces would seem to be a logical consequence, or at least an "end" result, of Endangered Species.
WolfAtTheDoor
not rated yet Jan 13, 2009
'where has all the Australian poo gone? - That's easy - http://www.imdb.c...0455824/

*high five*
AMMBD
1 / 5 (1) Jan 20, 2009
Endangered Feces would seem to be a logical consequence, or at least an "end" result, of Endangered Species.


rotflmao. so needed that laugh on a monday. thx!

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.