Giant bird feces records pre-human New Zealand

January 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: Ancient pandas weren't exclusive bamboo eaters, bone evidence suggests

Related Stories

Sharks drawn to warm waters by Israeli coastal power plant

January 31, 2019

A giant power plant with billowing smoke may not look like the most natural habitat for sea life. But the hot water gushing from an industrial plant in Israel's northern city of Hadera has drawn schools of sharks that are ...

Research shows what it takes to be a giant shark

January 24, 2019

In a paper published by Evolution, research led by Swansea University's Dr. Catalina Pimiento and co-authored by an international team of scientists from the UK, Europe and the USA examined the biological traits of all sharks ...

Tiny killer threatens giant clam, aquatic emblem of the Med

January 25, 2019

With wing-shaped shells lined with iridescent mother-of-pearl and producing the fibres of rare and delicate sea silk, the noble pen shell clam is one of the most emblematic species in the Mediterranean and a bellwether for ...

Mammoth DNA found in Cambodia market items

January 4, 2019

Scientists tackling the illegal trade in elephant ivory got more than they bargained for when they found woolly mammoth DNA in trinkets on sale in Cambodia, they revealed Friday.

New parasite decimates giant clam species in Mediterranean

December 4, 2018

With rapid efficiency, a mysterious parasite is seeking out and killing a giant species of clam found only in the Mediterranean Sea. Unless scientists can find a way of stopping it soon, they say the mollusk could go extinct.

Recommended for you

Researchers make coldest quantum gas of molecules

February 21, 2019

JILA researchers have made a long-lived, record-cold gas of molecules that follow the wave patterns of quantum mechanics instead of the strictly particle nature of ordinary classical physics. The creation of this gas boosts ...

Quantum dots can spit out clone-like photons

February 21, 2019

In the global quest to develop practical computing and communications devices based on the principles of quantum physics, one potentially useful component has proved elusive: a source of individual particles of light with ...

10 comments

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.