The late Miocene Dromornis stirtoni is the largest of the giant flightless dromornithid birds. Here, we studied 22 long bones (femora, tibiotarsi, tarsometatarsi) of D. stirtoni to assess its osteohistology to deduce various aspects of its life history. Our results show that D. stirtoni took several years (likely, more than a decade), to reach adult body size, after which its growth rate slowed down, and skeletal maturity occurred. This growth strategy differs from that of its Pleistocene relative, Genyornis newtoni, which experienced faster rates of growth to reach adult body size. We propose that these mihirung birds, separated by millions of years, each responded to the prevailing environmental conditions of the time, by selecting for different growth strategies, with D. stirtoni having an extreme K-selected life history strategy. The presence of medullary bone permitted the identification of female D. stirtoni specimens, and its presence in some bones lacking an OCL layer showed sexual maturity preceded its formation. We postulate that while G. newtoni had a somewhat greater reproductive potential than D. stirtoni, it remained far less than that observed in the extant emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae). Genyornis newtoni survived into the late Pleistocene alongside extant emus and overlapped the arrival of the first humans in Australia, but the former species shortly thereafter became extinct while emus remain prolific.
- bone histology
- extinct birds