DNA provides a unique perspective on moa and climate change.

A University of Otago study has found that antiquated moa DNA has given experience into how species respond to environmental change.

By breaking down the antiquated DNA of the terminated eastern moa, scientists from the Department of Zoology found the monster birds changed their dissemination as the environment warmed and cooled.

Lead creator Dr. Alex Verry says the species was spread across the eastern and southern South Island during the hotter Holocene time frame, but was confined to the southern South Island during the level of the last Ice Age around quite a while back.

This is in contrast with the weighty-footed moa, which withdrew to both the southern and northern districts of the South Island, while the upland moa possessed four distinct regions.

“The eastern moa’s response had ramifications for its population size and genetic variety—the previous Ice Age caused a strong genetic bottleneck, resulting in lower genetic diversity than other moa residing in the same locations,” the researchers write.”

Dr. Alex Verry

“The eastern moa’s reaction had ramifications for its populace size and hereditary variety — the last Ice Age led to an articulated hereditary bottleneck, which implied it wound up with lower hereditary variety than other moa living in similar regions,” Dr. Verry says.

The study, published in Biology Letters, is the first time high-throughput DNA sequencing, which groups a large number of bits of DNA, has been used to investigate moa at the population level.

An artist’s rendition of a Haast’s eagle attacking moa.
Credit: John Megahan – Ancient DNA Tells Story of Giant Eagle Evolution.

The discoveries show how past environmental change affected species in various ways and that a “one size fits all” model isn’t commonsense.

What awaits species today as they attempt to adapt to environmental change?”Will they likewise embark on moving to new regions to get by?

For certain species, this won’t be imaginable. A few animal categories will run out of space. For example, snow-capped species, which should move up yet can go such a long way until there is no more “up,” he says.

Co-creator Dr. Nic Rawlence, Director of Otago’s Palaeogenetics Laboratory, says the examination is an interesting illustration of the effects of past environmental change on wiped-out megafauna from New Zealand.

It also demonstrates how fossil remains and exhibition hall collections can be used to answer new questions about the past.

“This is truly bringing the force of palaeogenomics to New Zealand research questions, though already most exploration and interest has zeroed in on Eurasian or American species. We are truly beginning to construct a limit with regards to this exploration in New Zealand,” he says.

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