Resolving lost herbivore community structure using coprolites of four sympatric moa species (Aves: Dinornithiformes).

Jamie Wood, Janet Wilmshurst, S Richardson, Nicolas Rawlence, S. Wagstaff, Trevor H. Worthy, Alan Cooper

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

    44 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Knowledge of extinct herbivore community structuring is essential for assessing the wider ecological impacts of Quaternary extinctions and determining appropriate taxon substitutes for rewilding. Here, we demonstrate the potential for coprolite studies to progress beyond single-species diet reconstructions to resolving communitylevel detail. The moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) of New Zealand are an intensively studied group of nine extinct herbivore species, yet many details of their diets and community structuring remain unresolved. We provide unique insights into these aspects of moa biology through analyses of a multispecies coprolite assemblage from a rock overhang in a montane river valley in southern New Zealand. Using ancient DNA (aDNA), we identified 51 coprolites, which included specimens from four sympatric moa species. Pollen, plant macrofossils, and plant aDNA from the coprolites chronicle the diets and habitat preferences of these large avian herbivores during the 400 y before their extinction (~1450 AD). We use the coprolite data to develop a paleoecological niche model in which moa species were partitioned based on both habitat (forest and valley-floor herbfield) and dietary preferences, the latter reflecting allometric relationships between body size, digestive efficiency, and nutritional requirements. Broad ecological niches occupied by South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus) and upland moa (Megalapteryx didinus) may reflect sexual segregation and seasonal variation in habitat use, respectively. Our results show that moa lack extant ecological analogs, and their extinction represents an irreplaceable loss of function from New Zealand's terrestrial ecosystems.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)16910-16915
    Number of pages6
    JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
    Volume110
    Issue number42
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 2013

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