Moa diet fits the bill: virtual reconstruction incorporating mummified remains and prediction of biomechanical performance in avian giants

Marie Attard, Laura Wilson, Trevor H. Worthy, Richard Scofield, Peter Johnston, Will Parr, Steve Wroe

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    17 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    The moa (Dinornithiformes) are large to gigantic extinct terrestrial birds of New Zealand. Knowledge about niche partitioning, feeding mode and preference among moa species is limited, hampering palaeoecological reconstruction and evaluation of the impacts of their extinction on remnant native biota, or the viability of exotic species as proposed ecological ‘surrogates’. Here we apply three-dimensional finite-element analysis to compare the biomechanical performance of skulls from five of the six moa genera, and two extant ratites, to predict the range of moa feeding behaviours relative to each other and to living relatives. Mechanical performance during biting was compared using simulations of the birds clipping twigs based on muscle reconstruction of mummified moa remains. Other simulated food acquisition strategies included lateral shaking, pullback and dorsoventral movement of the skull. We found evidence for limited overlap in biomechanical performance between the extant emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and extinct upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus) based on similarities in mandibular stress distribution in two loading cases, but overall our findings suggest that moa species exploited their habitats in different ways, relative to both each other and extant ratites. The broad range of feeding strategies used by moa, as inferred from interspecific differences in biomechanical performance of the skull, provides insight into mechanisms that facilitated high diversities of these avian herbivores in prehistoric New Zealand.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number20152043
    Pages (from-to)Art: 20152043
    Number of pages9
    JournalProceedings of The Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
    Volume283
    Issue number1822
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2016

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