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Study: kiwi and elephant bird belong to same lineage

"It's about as bizarre a finding as you can get," biology professor Alan Cooper said.
By Brooks Hays   |   May 22, 2014 at 5:15 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, May 22 (UPI) -- New Zealand's pint-sized kiwi and Madagascar's now-extinct, but once-towering, elephant bird are related -- two offshoots of the group of flightless birds called ratites, a group responsible for species throughout the Southern Hemisphere.

The realization came about after researchers at the University of Adelaide, in Australia, analyzed DNA from the two species.

The chicken-like kiwi and the giant elephant bird, extinct for centuries, would have been quite the odd couple placed side-by-side. The largest elephant bird species tipped the scales at some 600 pounds. Kiwis barely breach ten. But they both evolved from the same small bird that occupied Antarctica some 50 million years ago.

"It's about as bizarre a finding as you can get," Adelaide biology professor Alan Cooper said.

Previously, scientists believed the Kiwi, New Zealand's national bird, was most closely related to Australia's emu and the cassowary. The new research helps the kiwi and its countrymen out from under the shadow of their neighbors down under.

Cooper was relieved by the discovery, as it was his research that first pinned the state bird to Australia. "It's taken me 20 years to fix the picture, for which I am obviously very apologetic."

The new DNA analysis is detailed in the latest edition of the journal Science.

Topics: Alan Cooper
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