New Zealand ravens closely related to Aussie cousins

Monday 03 October 2016

New Zealand’s two extinct species of native ravens - the Chatham Islands Raven and the New Zealand Raven - probably arrived two million years ago and are most closely related to the Australian Raven.

Raven 1200 MR for Credit

Chatham Islands Raven

These are the conclusions of the first study investigating the relationships of these birds with other species. The native ravens became extinct about 800 years ago, around the time the first people arrived in New Zealand. The research findings of the study by a multi-disciplinary team of New Zealand and Australian scientists has just been published in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Using forensic ancient DNA techniques, the scientists sequenced the entire mitochondrial genome (genes mostly inherited from the mother) of both species.  The team from Canterbury Museum, Landcare Research and the Universities of Adelaide and Otago found that the two extinct species were most closely related to the Australian Raven and probably arrived in New Zealand about two million years ago, at the start of a period of glacial deforestation.

Lead author Professor Paul Scofield from Canterbury Museum says, “Our multidisciplinary group were able to investigate a number of aspects of the biology of these extinct species using cutting edge techniques such as Computerised Tomography (CT) scanning and forensic ancient DNA techniques. These new techniques are really opening up a whole new window on paleobiology (the biology of fossil animals and plants).”

Dr Vanesa De Pietri from Canterbury Museum who studied the osteology (bones) of the Chatham Islands Raven says, “New Zealand raven bones are most frequently found with bones of the extinct form of the New Zealand sea-lion that was once abundant on New Zealand beaches. The bones of New Zealand ravens are unique, especially the shape of the palate. We think this may be because they had a specialised diet, different from other crows. Perhaps they even fed amongst the large sea lion rookeries that once occurred throughout New Zealand.”

To cite this article: R Paul Scofield, Kieren J Mitchell, Jamie R Wood, Vanesa L De Pietri, Scott Jarvie, Bastien Llamas, Alan Cooper (2016) The Origin and Phylogenetic Relationships of the New Zealand Ravens, Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

See the paper here.

Image credit: Chatham Islands Raven. Corvus moriorum. From the series: Extinct Birds of New Zealand, 2004, Masterton, by Paul Martinson. Purchased 2006 © Te Papa CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (2006-0010-1/15). 

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