Ancient DNA reveals extreme egg morphology and nesting behavior in New Zealand’s extinct moa
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New Zealand's extinct flightless moa radiated rapidly into a large number of morphologically diverse species, which produced an equally large range of egg morphologies. The exact number of moa species, as well as the characteristics of the eggs they laid, remains contentious. Moreover, like most extinct species, we understand little about their nesting and incubation habits. We used a modified ancient DNA extraction procedure to recover exogenous mitochondrial and nuclear DNA from the inside and outside surfaces of moa eggs. We used sequences from the inside of 69 eggshells to directly assign these remains to seven of the 10 currently recognized moa species. In addition we were able to assign, to the species level, six of the rare reconstructed "whole" eggs. These molecular results enabled us to identify two distinct lineages within the genus Euryapteryx. Members of these lineages differed in eggshell thickness, with one lineage being characterized by a relatively thin eggshell. Unexpectedly, several thin-shelled eggs were also shown to belong to the heaviest moa of the genera Dinornis, Euryapteryx and Emeus, making these, to our knowledge, the most fragile of all avian eggs measured to date. Moreover, sex-specific DNA recovered from the outer surfaces of eggshells belonging to species of Dinornis and Euryapteryx suggest that these very thin eggs were likely to have been incubated by the lighter males. The thin nature of the eggshells of these larger species of moa, even if incubated by the male, suggests that egg breakage in these species would have been common if the typical contact method of avian egg incubation was used.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
© 2010 National Academy of Sciences. This is the author-manuscript version of this paper. Reproduced in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher. Please refer to the journal website for access to the definitive, published version.
Animal Systematics and Taxonomy