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Elephant bird and kiwi linked by DNA

From: Ben Creisler

In the new issue of Science:

Kieren J. Mitchell, Bastien Llamas, Julien Soubrier, Nicolas J.
Rawlence, Trevor H. Worthy, Jamie Wood, Michael S. Y. Lee & Alan
Cooper (2014)
Ancient DNA reveals elephant birds and kiwi are sister taxa and
clarifies ratite bird evolution.
Science 344(6186): 898-900
DOI: 10.1126/science.1251981

The evolution of the ratite birds has been widely attributed to
vicariant speciation, driven by the Cretaceous breakup of the
supercontinent Gondwana. The early isolation of Africa and Madagascar
implies that the ostrich and extinct Madagascan elephant birds
(Aepyornithidae) should be the oldest ratite lineages. We sequenced
the mitochondrial genomes of two elephant birds and performed
phylogenetic analyses, which revealed that these birds are the closest
relatives of the New Zealand kiwi and are distant from the basal
ratite lineage of ostriches. This unexpected result strongly
contradicts continental vicariance and instead supports flighted
dispersal in all major ratite lineages. We suggest that convergence
toward gigantism and flightlessness was facilitated by early Tertiary
expansion into the diurnal herbivory niche after the extinction of the

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