Australian biologists and ancient DNA experts reported the discovery of the diets and habitats of four species of the extinct New Zealand moa from coprolites (fossilized feces) in the Sept. 30, 2013, edition of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Analysis of pollen fragments, ancient plant DNA, and fossilized plant fragments found in the 51 fossilized multispecies coprolite assemblage from a rock overhang in the Dart River Valley in southern New Zealand allowed the researchers to define the diet and habitat preferences of four of the nine known species of moa. The moa became extinct in 1450. The coprolite samples represent a time frame spanning 400 years before the moa became extinct.
The various species of moa were found to have inhabited forests, fields, and high mountain ranges. The distance between the groups and the terrain that separated the species of moa found in this analysis suggest there was little species interbreeding.
DNA analysis of the moa DNA in the coprolites indicate a definite first discovery that moa species were genetically different to the extent of being incapable of producing breeding offspring between the four species found.
This research is the first to define diet, habitats, and sexual behaviors in a species that has been extinct for over 400 years due to human behavior.