Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Diet of Giant Moas

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.
Researchers 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 moa, which ranged up to 250 kg and 3 m in height. Some of the faeces recovered were up to 15 cm 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." link

Ref.: Coprolite deposits reveal the diet and ecology of the extinct New Zealand megaherbivore moa (Aves, Dinornithiformes). 2009. J. Wood, et al. Quaternary Science Reviews 27: 2593-2602.

Lois Lane #47 (Feb, 1964) © DC Comics