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Bio-bullets

The nutritional wings of the tallest of all flightless birds

The reason why moa filled niches usually associated with mammals was an unappreciated poverty of crucial nutrients. Three trace elements gave birds a particular physiological lift in New Zealand.

professor caricatureProf. Mumblebard claims: "Birds became established in New Zealand because of their superior dispersal abilities whereas mammals either failed to arrive or were pre-empted. Evolution eventually{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} made moa into the largest land animals native to these islands because of the historical accident that mammalian competitors were lacking from the start." {!njaccess}… See the hidden half of Prof. Mumblebard’s claim by subscribing here{/njaccess}

logoRobin and the Honey Badger respond: "Mammals would have been present from the outset as New Zealand took shape and, like birds, they would have continued to arrive by rafting, swimming and flying. However, birds proved superior for ecological reasons. Moa evolved to usurp the mammalian niches here during the last five million years despite competition from any mammals inherited from the ancient mini-continent primordial to New Zealand. This is because birds (both flying and flightless) were nutritionally more efficient than mammals in the landscapes of New Zealand. The combination{njaccess 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8} – so characteristic of these islands – of a cold climate, mountainous terrain and volcanic geology would leave large animals at particular risk of deficiencies in micronutrients such as iodine, cobalt and selenium . And large birds such as moa would have been more efficient than large mammals in acquiring and recycling these megacatalyst elements. This physiological predisposition is what gave moa the competitive edge over any would-be mammalian competitor in New Zealand."{!njaccess}… Reveal the hidden half of this response by Robin and the Honey Badger by subscribing here{/njaccess}

 

Please join us here at the Bio-edge with your own comments. In the discussion below we encourage links to any evidence supporting either Prof. Mumblebard or Robin and the Honey Badger. Illustrations are welcome but please cite all sources or we may be forced under copyright to delete your comment.

The nutritional wings of the tallest of all flightless birds

Last modified on 13 July 2015

Comments   

0 #1 Zoophile 2014-02-11 15:39
This is about the most lifelike reconstruction of moa that I’ve seen..

www.youtube.com/.../
0 #2 J. Ordsden 2014-02-12 17:25
Even if moa and other flightless birds did most of the herbivory I don’t get why there couldn’t have been possums and other small marsupial herbivores in the treetops. Such mammals were surely present in Gondwana?
0 #3 Dinogeek 2014-02-13 12:39
New Zealand must have been quite a place with birds this size wandering around! It was like the last place on earth the dinosaurs survived.

0 #4 Zoophile 2014-03-06 13:15
What does everyone think of the computer reconstruction of the giant moa in David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive? The close-ups of the head really showed how different the beak was from ostriches and emus and cassowaries.
0 #5 Ornithophile 2014-03-06 14:13
@Dinogeek. Your photo of a moa make it look bigger than it was because the bird and the person are not to scale. The person is twice as far from the camera as the bird is. Even more impressive for me is Haast’s eagle, extinct now but one of the biggest eagles ever, which preyed on moa. This painting doesn’t really do justice to its size because it’s hard to tell from the picture how big the moa it’s attacking are



attributed to John Megahan, plosbiology.org/.../...
0 #6 Taklamakan 2014-03-06 14:16
Moa are impressive birds but I’m finding it hard to think that they could really compete for food with deer-size marsupials if such mammals were present at any time in the past native fauna of New Zealand. Of course there’s no fossil evidence of such mammals on these islands but I mean just as a thought experiment.
0 #7 Zoophile 2014-06-19 12:05
See new genetic research by Alan Cooper (Uni of Adelaide) re DNA of ratites, Science, doi.org/swq. Emus and moa are more distantly related than previously thought. The Madagascan elephant bird is not related at all to New Zealand moa; the two lineages evolved independently from small flying birds. And while elephant birds are indeed closely related to kiwi, their last common ancestor lived much more recently than 100 million years ago, which is when Madagascar and New Zealand split apart. This implies that they must have descended from a bird capable of flying across the oceans. Moa are most closely related to the South American tinamous, which fly weakly, further supporting the idea that moa evolved from flying birds.

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