News in Brief

Giant moa thrived before people reached New Zealand

DNA data suggest flightless birds went extinct because of human activity

By
4:55pm, March 18, 2014

Humans probably caused the extinction of giant wingless birds called moa in New Zealand, DNA evidence suggests.

Scientists have debated why the several species of moa went extinct about 100 years after Polynesians settled New Zealand around A.D. 1300. Various lines of evidence suggest that people’s hunting, setting fires and bringing competing species to the islands caused the big birds’ demise. But recent genetic evidence hinted that moa were declining before the Polynesians ever reached New Zealand. The birds may have been victims of disease and volcanic eruptions that reduced their numbers and genetic diversity.

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