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/jour… cription#description

Provided by University of Adelaide

Explore further: Researchers discover natural resistance gene against spruce budworm

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Saving Christmas Island's reptiles

Nov 17, 2014

Environmental scientists are working alongside park rangers to protect Christmas Island's remaining reptilian wildlife from extinction.

Sex, genes, the Y chromosome and the future of men

Nov 14, 2014

The Y chromosome, that little chain of genes that determines the sex of humans, is not as tough as you might think. In fact, if we look at the Y chromosome over the course of our evolution we've seen it shrink ...

Recommended for you

Rare new species of plant: Stachys caroliniana

15 hours ago

The exclusive club of explorers who have discovered a rare new species of life isn't restricted to globetrotters traveling to remote locations like the Amazon rainforests, Madagascar or the woodlands of the ...

Mysterious glowworm found in Peruvian rainforest

18 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Wildlife photographer Jeff Cremer has discovered what appears to be a new type of bioluminescent larvae. He told members of the press recently that he was walking near a camp in the Peruvian ...

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.