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Ancient DNA analyses of early archaeological sites in New Zealand reveal extreme exploitation of moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) at all life stages

Oskam, C.L., Allentoft, M.E., Walter, R., Scofield, R.P., Haile, J., Holdaway, R.N., Bunce, M. and Jacomb, C. (2012) Ancient DNA analyses of early archaeological sites in New Zealand reveal extreme exploitation of moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes) at all life stages. Quaternary Science Reviews, 52 . pp. 41-48.

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The human colonisation of New Zealand in the late thirteenth century AD led to catastrophic impacts on the local biota and is among the most compelling examples of human over-exploitation of native fauna, including megafauna. Nearly half of the species in New Zealand' s pre-human avifauna are now extinct, including all nine species of large, flightless moa (Aves: Dinornithiformes). The abundance of moa in early archaeological sites demonstrates the significance of these megaherbivores in the diet of the first New Zealanders. Combining moa assemblage data, based on DNA identification of eggshell and bone, with morphological identification of bone (literature and museum catalogued specimens), we present the most comprehensive audit of moa to date from several significant 13th-15th century AD archaeological deposits across the east coast of the South Island. Mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) was amplified from 251 of 323 (78%) eggshell fragments and 22 of 27 (88%) bone samples, and the analyses revealed the presence of four moa species: Anomalopteryx didiformis; Dinornis robustus; Emeus crassus and Euryapteryx curtus. The mtDNA, along with polymorphic microsatellite markers, enabled an estimate of the minimum number of individual eggs consumed at each site. Remarkably, in one deposit over 50 individual eggs were identified - a number that likely represents a considerable proportion of the total reproductive output of moa in the area and emphasises that human predation of all life stages of moa was intense. Molecular sexing was conducted on bones (n = 11). Contrary to previous ancient DNA studies from natural sites that consistently report an excess of female moa, we observed an excess of males (2.7:1), suggestive that males were preferential targets. This could be related to different behaviour between the two highly size-dimorphic sexes in moa. Lastly, we investigated the moa species from recovered skeletal and eggshell remains from seven Wairau Bar burials, and identified the presence of only the larger species of moa, E. curtus and D. robustus.

Item Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology
Publisher: Elsevier BV
Copyright: © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.
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