News from the Columbia Climate School

Unexpected Sisters

An artist's rendering of the extinct Elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus), which lived in Madagascar. Aepyornis stood over 3 meters tall. Image  source: BBC Photo Library.
An artist’s rendering of the extinct Elephant bird (Aepyornis maximus), which lived in Madagascar. Aepyornis stood over 3 meters tall. Image source: BBC Photo Library.

 

An ancient island’s trove of treasure: Madagascan fauna
Tenrec, fossa, lemur, hippo, dugong, bat, iguana.
A giant bird – O, wondrous beast! – a half a ton, and tall,
Laid foot-long eggs, had beefy legs, and did not fly at all.
Another ratite, far away within the South Pacific,
The kiwi! Shy, with furry feathers, appetite terrific.
Among the old-jawed birds, you wouldn’t guess that they’re close kin,
But DNA reveals a link from deep, deep down within.
If the kiwi’s closest kin is not its moa neighbor,
Drawing up the family tree might seem a puzzling labor.
The simplest answer blows the mind – it seems that they all flew
With wings they spread across the globe, and filled in niches new.
Dinos gone (darn asteroid) left lots of open spaces,
Birds came in, diversified, flew on an as-need basis.
From this, it seems that flightlessness evolved six separate times!
The song of life, though improvised, with patterns clear it chimes.

 

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Further reading:

Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and clarifies ratite bird evolution, Mitchell et al., 2014, Science.

Little kiwi, huge extinct elephant bird were birds of a feather, Reuters

The Surprising Closest Relative of the Huge Elephant Birds, National Geographic

This is one in a series of poems based on science news, written by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

Science for the Planet: In these short video explainers, discover how scientists and scholars across the Columbia Climate School are working to understand the effects of climate change and help solve the crisis.
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9 years ago

possibly evolve from the previous version of the ostrich 🙂

9 years ago

I find birds interesting. When I research about this bird I suprised. 🙂

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