New Zealand Moas' Rapid Extinction Caused by Humans, Not Environmental Change
By Reissa Su | March 18, 2014 5:43 PM EST
New Zealand's moas were flightless birds that ruled over the country until the first human settlement arrived. The biggest of the moas had a height of 12 feet with an outstretched neck. The entire moa population composed of nine species had disappeared shortly after the arrival of the first humans in New Zealand in the 13th century.
REUTERS/ Christine Brooks
Dust rises from rocks were falling from a cliff in the Christchurch suburb of Sumner moments after an earthquake struck December 23, 2011.
Since then, scientists have long argued about the reason why the big and diverse birds became extinct. Some theories had contended that the birds were declining due to changes in the environment or volcanic activities before the first humans had arrived on New Zealand's shores.
A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) had found no such evidence of the previous theories but suggested humans were more likely the culprit behind the moas' extinction.
Scientists had examined two different DNA sets out of 281 specimens from four species, namely the South Island giant moa which was the largest in the family; the heavy-footed moa, the eastern moa and the coastal moa.
Instead of a slow genetic decline, scientists found a different DNA story. New Zealand's moas had been thriving despite the presence of humans in the land. According to lead researcher Morten Allentoft from the University of Copenhagen, the millennia before the moas' extinction had a "remarkable degree of genetic stability" in all species.
Mr Allentoft and his team discovered that some moa populations had thrived right up to the end. Scientists were baffled that the end of the species had come so fast that there was no imprint in the four species' genes. A mark will be usually left behind once species are constricted by genes. Scientists called the extinction of New Zealand's moas as the "most rapid, human-facilitated megafauna extinction documented to date."
The latest findings were in contrast to an earlier study in 2004 which suggested that the moas were already in decline even before the first humans had arrived. However, the previous study was only limited to data using mitochondrial DNA. Mr Allentoft and his team had used mitochondrial DNA and nuclear microsatellite genotyping to generate population trends.
The new study coincides with archaeological findings that revealed mounds of butchered moas and eggs. Like most animals that have seen humans, New Zealand's moas were possibly not afraid of man which made hunting them easy.
Mr Allentoft said heaps of the moas' bones were often found in archaeological sites. Hunting the moas or all animals for that matter in every stage can lead to their extinction.
To contact the editor, e-mail:
Most Popular Slideshows
- Jeremy Lin, Kobe Bryant Among The Top 5 Overpaid Players In The NBA (Part 1 - Western Conference)
- Reasons Why Michael Jordan Is Better Than LeBron James [PHOTOS And VIDEO]
- Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire Among Worst Contracts In The NBA (Part 2 - Eastern Conference)
- Brawl-Marred Game in NFL Week 3: Philadelphia Eagles 37, Washington Redskins 34 [PHOTOS]
Join the Conversation
- UFO Sighting: Giant 5 Mile Wide UFO Spotted Over the Ocean in NASA Photograph [Watch Video]
- UFO Sighting In Portsmouth: Sign Of Alien Life Or Smudge On The Camera [Watch Video]
- Lifestyle Changes Reduces Risk of Dementia, According To World Alzheimer Report 2014
- Death By Ice Bucket Challenge Accident For Kentucky Firefighter
- Canada PM Stephen Harper to Skip UN Climate Summit
- Nexus 6, 8 Release Date is Halloween 2014 as Android L Intro Set for October 16
- New Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Galaxy S5 Android 5.0 L Killer Features, Encryption and More
- Moto G 2014 v Asus Zenfone 5 – Specification Comparison Shows Zenfone 5 Is A Good Alternative for Moto G
- Android 5.0 L Nexus 4, Nexus 5, Nexus 7 Release in October, Google Employees Offer Hint
- U.S and Canada Fighter Jets Chase Out Russian Jets Near Alaska: Air Space Violation Not Confirmed
- Microsoft Doubles OneDrive Space To 30GB Due To iOS 8 Update Issues
- Nexus 8, Nexus 9 Release Date, Device Name And Price Conundrum: What To Expect?