Flightless birds’ history upset by ancient DNA

Ancestors of kiwis and elephant birds didn’t just drift with the continents

By Susan Milius, 17:50 PM May 22, 2014

Madagascar’s elephant birds — which weighed as much as three or four people and went extinct several hundred years ago — turn out to be the closest known relatives of New Zealand’s chicken-sized kiwi.

This genealogical surprise is “a slap in the face” to a long-standing idea of how many flightless birds evolved, says evolutionary biologist Alan Cooper  of the University of Adelaide in Australia.  Realizing that continents moved around, biologists in the 1970s debated whether ostriches, kiwis a...

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