Performed by a Haast eagle artist attacking a moa. Credit: John Megahan – Ancient DNA tells the story of the evolution of a giant eagle. PLoS Biol 3 (1): e20. doi: 10.1371 / journal.pbio.0030020.g001

Moa’s ancient DNA has given an idea of ​​how species respond to climate change, according to a study by the University of Otago.

Analyzing the ancient DNA of the extinct eastern moa, researchers from the Department of Zoology found that giant birds have changed their distribution as the climate warms and cools.

Lead author Dr. Alex Verry says the species was distributed in the eastern and southern South Islands during the warmer Holocene, but was limited to the southern South Island during the height of the last ice age about 25,000 years ago.

This is in comparison to the heavy-footed moa, which retreated in both the southern and northern regions of the South Island, while mountain moa inhabited four different areas.

“The Eastern Moa’s response had implications for population size and genetic diversity – the last ice age led to a marked genetic disadvantage, which meant that it ended up with lower genetic diversity than other Moa living in the same areas.” says Dr. Verry.

The study, published in Biological letterswas the first time that high-throughput DNA sequencing, which simultaneously sequenced millions of pieces of DNA, was used to study moa at the population level.

The findings highlight how past climate change has affected species in different ways and that the “one size fits all” model is not practical.

“It makes us wonder what will happen to the species as they try to adapt to climate change today and in the future.” Will they also try to move to new areas to survive?

“For some species, this will not be possible, some species will run out of space, such as alpine species, which will have to move up, but can only go so far as there is no more ‘up’,” he said.

Co-author Dr. Nick Rowlens, director of the Otago Paleogenetic Laboratory, says the study is a rare example of the impact of past climate change on extinct New Zealand megafauna.

It also demonstrates how fossils and museum collections can be used to answer new questions about the past.

“This really brings the power of paleogenomics to research in New Zealand, while before that most research and interest focused on Eurasian or American species. We are really starting to build capacity for this study in New Zealand, “he said.

Blue-eyed Maharas survived the Ice Age in New Zealand

More information:
Genetic evidence for post-glacial expansion from the southern refugium into the eastern moa (Emeus crassus), Biological letters (2022). DOI: 10.1098 / rsbl.2022.0013.… .1098 / rsbl.2022.0013

Provided by the University of Otago

Quote: DNA provides a unique look at moa and climate change (2022, 10 May), extracted on 10 May 2022 from

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