As part of the process to bring the story of New Zealand’s Quaternary heritage and its significance to a wider, we have just released…

Pyramid Valley and Beyond

Discovering the Prehistoric Birdlife of North Canterbury, New Zealand
Richard N Holdaway, with images by Rod Morris
February 2015, Turnagra Press, Christchurch, New Zealand

Palaecol Research is an independent company dedicated to doing fundamental research on New Zealand’s extra-ordinary palaeobiological resources and in applying the results to underpin the restoration of ecosystems and biodiversity on the principle that knowing what causes a problem is the best way of finding a remedy.
New Zealand was the last significant land mass colonised by humans: its biological processes functioned without human intervention until the 14th century. The record of those pristine systems is the best in the world and a key window into the natural functioning of ecosystems.
Based in Christchurch, New Zealand, Palaecol Research is involved in research and restoration projects throughout the country and on Australia’s Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.

Contact us at: turnagra@clear.net.nz
Ancient DNA from extinct birds? Eggzactly right!
In a major extension of the capability of ancient DNA research on extinct birds, a team based at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, has demonstrated that fossil eggshell is an excellent source of DNA. Some of the samples used in the analyses came from moa nesting sites in the North Island of New Zealand. The results, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, demonstrate the excellent “quality” of the DNA preserved in eggshell, and its wide applicability in research on extinct faunas. The technology is already being used in a range of research programmes, notably a New Zealand Marsden Fund supported project led by Chris Jacomb at the University of Otago and Mike Bunce (Murdoch University) which is using moa eggshell preserved in Archaic Polynesian archaeological sites to investigate the use of moa by New Zealand’s earliest settlers. Palaecol Research Ltd was involved in the original research as a source of moa eggshell and its environmental and biological background, and is now contributing to the new Marsden Fund project in the application of stable isotopes from the DNA-identified moa eggshell to understanding the environment at the time of colonisation.

Life and death of the giant moa
The North Canterbury Palaeome Project is aimed at understanding the structure and functioning of New Zealand’s environment before people arrived and altered it forever. Our focus is on the biology and environment of four species of extinct moa (Dinornithiformes). Evolving technologies are wresting a wealth of information from the isotopic chemistry of well-preserved moa bones such as the tibiotarsus of a South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus) pictured in the marquee images on this home page.

Sex and the male moa
Using the largest sample of genetically-identified and -sexed moa ever assembled, our international team has found that the female-biased sex ratios of moa developed, in one species at least, after the birds had grown to adulthood. PhD candidate Morten Allentoft, working in Dr Mike Bunce’s ancient DNA laboratory at Murdoch University, Perth, Western Australia, identified enough late juveniles of the species Euryapteryx curtus, a medium-sized moa (whose adult females weighed about 80 kg), to demonstrate that they maintained a 50:50 sex ratio until they were adult-sized. Thereafter the males seem to have lost out. The adult sex ratio was about 3 to 1 in favour of females: either the adult males lived elsewhere and their infrequent visits to the moa Amazons did not result in many of them being preserved in the Pyramid Valley and Bell Hill Vineyard sites, or in the competition for habitat, males simply lost out in the tussle for territory.

The research is published in the journal Quaternary science reviews (see Publications), and is part of the wider programme Relative neighbours: ancient DNA and stable isotopes as windows into the genetic structure, microhabitat, and environment of four sympatric species of moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) in North Canterbury funded 2006-2010 by the Marsden Fund, administered by the Royal Society of New Zealand.


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