Dodos and spotted green pigeons are descendants of an island hopping bird

Jul 15, 2014
Spotted Green Pigeon relationships from Heupink et al.

The mysterious spotted green pigeon (Caloenas maculata) was a relative of the dodo, according to scientists who have examined its genetic make-up. The authors say their results, published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, support a theory that both birds are descended from 'island hopping' ancestors.

The only known example of the spotted green pigeon is the Liverpool pigeon, which is currently in the World Museum, Liverpool. The only other known specimen has been lost, and there are no records of the bird in the wild. There is no record of where the pigeon was found, and it wasn't even known if the spotted green pigeon was a , or just an unusual form of the Nicobar pigeon from around Indonesia.

The scientists took DNA from two feathers of the spotted green pigeon. Because of its age, the DNA was highly fragmented, so they focused in on three DNA 'mini barcodes' – small sections of DNA which are unique for most bird species. They looked at these sections of the pigeon's DNA, and compared it to other species.

This showed that the spotted green pigeon is indeed a separate species, showing a unique DNA barcode compared to other pigeons. The pigeon is genetically most closely related to the Nicobar pigeon and the dodo and Rodrigues solitaire, both extinct birds from islands near Madagascar. The spotted green pigeon shows signs of a semi-terrestrial island lifestyle and the ability to fly. The closely related Nicobar pigeon shows similar habits and has a preference for travelling between small islands.

The scientists say this lifestyle, together with the relationship of both pigeons to the dodo and Rodrigues solitaire supports an evolutionary theory that the ancestors of these birds were 'island hoppers', moving between islands around India and Southeast Asia. The birds that settled on particular islands then evolved into the individual species. The dodo's ancestor managed to hop as far as the island of Mauritius near Madagascar where it then lost the ability to fly.

Dr Tim Heupink, Griffith University Australia says: "This study improves our ability to identify novel species from historic remains, and also those that are not novel after all. Ultimately this will help us to measure and understand the extinction of local populations and entire species."

Clemency Fisher, Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the World Museum says: "We are very pleased that the extinct spotted green pigeon has its correct place in the world of birds after more than 230 years. Tim Heupink's groundbreaking genetic research, analysing small fragments of DNA from tiny pieces of feather, proves the spotted green pigeon is unique and a distant relation to the Nicobar pigeon, the Rodrigues solitaire and the of Mauritius".

Explore further: Huge population fluctuations could have preceded passenger pigeon extinction

More information: The mysterious Spotted Green Pigeon and its relation to the Dodo and its kindred. Tim H Heupink, Hein van Grouw and David M Lambert, BMC Evolutionary Biology, www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/14/136

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

All gone: How erasing billions of birds shocked us

Jun 18, 2014

It was the moment that humanity learned we had the awesome power to erase an entire species off the face of the Earth in the scientific equivalent of a blink of an eye: The passenger pigeon went from billions ...

Milking the pigeon: extracting the mechanisms involved

Sep 18, 2011

Pigeons, flamingos and male emperor penguins are all able to produce "milk" in their crop to feed their chicks. Research published in BioMed Central's open access journal BMC Genomics uses new technology to stu ...

Angry bird's unique wing weapon revealed

May 28, 2013

(Phys.org) —The solitaire bird was a giant flightless pigeon that, like its closest relative the dodo, became extinct soon after European explorers settled in its habitat. It had a strange knob-like ball ...

Recommended for you

Cat dentals fill you with dread?

14 hours ago

A survey published this year found that over 50% of final year veterinary students in the UK do not feel confident either in discussing orodental problems with clients or in performing a detailed examination of the oral cavity ...

User comments : 0