Digging into dung for clues to New Zealand’s past biodiversity

Fossilised bird dung from almost 1500 years ago was used for the study.

There are scientists who dig up skeletons, and there are those who dig up metals. But the greatest find for a group of scientists from New Zealand, has been dung. To be precise, fossilised bird dung from almost 1500 years ago.

Coprolites or fossilised dung can help scientists study the feeding behaviour of the animal, the microbes in its stomach, and also about parasites that lived on the animal.

These findings can also help understand the ecosystem and biodiversity of the past. After human settlements started, New Zealand lost almost “41% of indigenous bird species” and its ecosystems drastically and quickly changed says the report published recently in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America).

Studying the dung

The scientists extracted DNA from the coprolites and used new ‘High throughput sequencing’ technologies to study the genes of the organism.

The dung samples were collected from caves, creeks and river valleys. Their age ranged from 124 to 1,557 years, and belonged to four species of Moa (extinct flightless herbivorous birds) and one prehistoric Kakapo (flightless parrots) species.