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Why Did New Zealand's Moas Go Extinct? 180

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the too-tasty-for-life dept.
sciencehabit writes "For millions of years, nine species of large, flightless birds known as moas (Dinornithiformes) thrived in New Zealand. Then, about 600 years ago, they abruptly went extinct. Their die-off coincided with the arrival of the first humans on the islands in the late 13th century, and scientists have long wondered what role hunting by Homo sapiens played in the moas' decline. Did we alone drive the giant birds over the brink, or were they already on their way out thanks to disease and volcanic eruptions? Now, a new genetic study of moa fossils points to humankind as the sole perpetrator of the birds' extinction. The study adds to an ongoing debate about whether past peoples lived and hunted animals in a sustainable manner or were largely to blame for the extermination of numerous species."
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Why Did New Zealand's Moas Go Extinct?

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  • by MarkTina (611072) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:37PM (#46511843)

    and tasty!

    I'm glad they are gone, as the Haast's Eagle would still be here if they were around ... and I'm not keen on walking about while a bird of prey with a 3 meter wingspan looked down on me as a snack!

    • by ackthpt (218170)

      and tasty!

      I'm glad they are gone, as the Haast's Eagle would still be here if they were around ... and I'm not keen on walking about while a bird of prey with a 3 meter wingspan looked down on me as a snack!

      You can only imagine what the Wings people would make of these birds...

    • So when is someone going to clone a Moa so we can have tasty Moa burgers?

    • by MrBigInThePants (624986) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:28PM (#46512619)
      They were tasty, slow and us Maoris are big eaters.

      QED

      Why this is surprising news is beyond me. The extinction of the moa has always been portrayed as a human event ever since I was a kid. Glad they found definitive proof but hardly something I needed to know.
      What would have been newsworthy would have been the amazing coincidence of humans showing up and NOT having been the cause.
      • Agree, I was just reading about the extinctions of Moas and Dodos a few months ago. The arrival of human-associated pests and pets (rats from ships, cats) vs. human hunting itself may be less settled, but there didn't appear to be any "news".
      • by jfengel (409917)

        We knew all along that we were the final cause. The question was whether they had been declining before that.

        That was the thesis of this paper [nih.gov], which concluded (based on diversity of mitochondrial DNA) that the species had declined considerably before humans arrived.

        That was in 2004; ten years later, a different analysis concludes that the moa were not in fact as numerous as the 2004 paper thought, and the number had in fact been pretty stable. It was only when humans arrived that the number dropped.

        Even th

        • Again I say...

          Where is the interesting news here? It is not about whether this is valid science but whether it is worth reporting as general news.

          Why is this on slashdot?

          There are 100's of thousands of articles just as nominal as this and we don't reference those.
          • by jfengel (409917)

            There, I sure can't help ya. I found it pretty interesting; it's more relevant to my interests than much of what Slashdot has done of late. But you're absolutely right that there's a whole passel of science of equal interest that gets ignored, while fluff that I find uninteresting (or worse) gets there day after day.

            I originally thought that Slashdot had the most insightful scientific and technical commentary on the web. The articles of moderate interest were greatly enhanced by other scientists with a clos

            • Well I guess it is good for you and not me in this instance.

              Also I come from NZ so we grow up learning this stuff so there is that also.
    • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

      by riverat1 (1048260)

      I think it was because of the awesome omelets you could make with their eggs. No eggs hatching no chicks. (TIC)

    • But think of the spiky umbrella manufacturers.

    • by flyneye (84093)

      You are probably right. Moa werent too far from Emu/Ostrich. Emu is delicious. Makes great jerky.
      Of course, I thought of the outside probability of a viral/bacterial doom being brought by humans.
      Doubtless , they ate some before the birds dropped dead though.
      Mmmmmm, Emu jerky....

    • by geekoid (135745)

      I would love to live n the world with the Haast's Eagle.

  • Easy to hunt. Nests vulnerable. Virus brought in by the humans (in a classical reverse of bird flu!) Competed for similar resources?

    Possibly the eggs or feathers made great hats.

  • by olsmeister (1488789) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:40PM (#46511871)
    One look at the current state of the world's ecosystems and a small amount of insight into human nature should answer that question easily.
    • Betteridge's law of headlines: No

      Nor did our ancestors farm sustainably.

      One would think that by now we ought to have learnt our lessons and that we'd now be more careful. Alas, apparently we seem to be a very slow learning mob.

    • by NReitzel (77941) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @03:30AM (#46514027) Homepage

      Are you kidding? The reason that "native americans" lived "in harmony" with nature is because they had no horses. They were hunter-gatherers, and would move into an area and kill and eat every single thing that they could reach by walking a few days. Then, when the game was gone, they picked up stakes and moved to their next place.

      Now, lest one think I'm attacking an ethnic group, let me point out that non-humans do the same thing. A species will move into an area, and eat everything they can catch or reach. It has - for eons - been a war between those that eat, and those that get eaten, and I'll include plants in this war, also.

      A few seasons of excellent rains and growth in a deciduous forest holding ungulates will result in extensive damage to underbrush, to the point where the next generation of animals is put under population control by that oldest of birth control methods: starvation. One of the reasons that the US states have licensed hunting seasons is to manage such populations of not-humans that can and do destroy their environment. In point of fact, humans are the very first animal who have the option to make a choice to not damage their environment.

      So for those who feel all puffy and bad about evil humans, you've missed the boat. You are sporting a ludicrous level of ignorance. Animals survive in the presence of humans only to the extent that they evolve to become stealthy enough, dangerous enough, or manage to breed even more wantonly than the humans who hunt them. The most common form of death, from time immemorial, is assassination with intent to ingest.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        Some did that, others built cities and farmed.
        Not that either was in some kind of mythical 'balance' but the native peoples where a very wide variety of culture types.

        Don't understand cuteness as an evolutionary survival trait. I mean if cats weren't seen as cute, no one would have them becasue they are assholes.
        Also, usefulness. Oh, and tasty is turning into a survival strategy because people will breed them for eating.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Really a new study? The Thousands of Moa bones removed from Maori middens wasn't a clue? Or the stories passed down about the Maori hunting the Moa also isn't a clue? No need a genetic study to prove it, Maybe these researches could do a genetic study on JFK and tell us who shot him?

    • Re:A new Study? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by PhilHibbs (4537) <snarks@gmail.com> on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @06:13AM (#46514491) Homepage Journal

      Really a new study? The Thousands of Moa bones removed from Maori middens wasn't a clue?

      RTFA. There was a credible theory that the Moa had evolved itself into a corner and was going to go extinct anyway. There's a similar theory about the giraffe now. If someone ate all the giraffes, people would say that it was that that killed them off, and in a literal fashion they'd be right, but the giraffe isn't going to last long anyway even without human assistance. It's way too specialised. For one thing, if anything threatens the acacia tree population, like a virus or a change in climate, they're screwed. And that's not the only problem they have. People say "oh, nature is balanced, humans are out of balance". Nature is not balanced. It gets messed up all on its own all the time. It's just that we mostly see the stuff that has survived, that currently is in a state of balance, and we assume that nature is this magical cohesive force that stays in tune with itself. Nonsense. We are part of nature, and we're just one example of how nature sometimes gets out of balance and creates a big mess for itself.

  • tend to tag along with people and disrupt indigenous species.
    • by cusco (717999)

      The Maori watercraft weren't large enough for rats to hitch rides unnoticed. That took European and Chinese ships with large, dark holds, bilges, and closed storage spaces.

    • by guises (2423402)
      Rats were mostly the companions of European explorers, not the islanders who extinguished the Moa.
  • by triffid_98 (899609) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:50PM (#46511969)
    And by PETA, of course I mean People Eat Tasty Animals.

    Dodo, Moa, SSDD.

    "Like many animals that evolved in isolation from significant predators, the Dodo was entirely fearless of humans. This fearlessness and its inability to fly made the Dodo easy prey for sailors"
  • Uh what? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:51PM (#46511979) Homepage Journal

    The study adds to an ongoing debate about whether past peoples lived and hunted animals in a sustainable manner or were largely to blame for the extermination of numerous species.

    The tragedy of the commons ain't new. We call it human nature. Some indigenous peoples had it right, for example native Americans on the west coast and around that area; they had fairly strict rules on land management and engaged in regular controlled burns. On the other hand, just go to the middle of the nation and you've got natives burning down forests to make more plains land for more buffalo. Not exactly a carbon sequestration strategy. I've heard before that Europe would have been completely deforested if the black plague didn't put a crimp in various ambitions. Hooray for disease, I guess.

    • Re:Uh what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:56PM (#46512029)
      The New Zealand Maori (of which I am a member) sometimes claim that our culture promotes sustainability and care for the environment. This has always been revisionist bs, but it was useful into guilting the pakeha into giving settlement money (which our tribal elites pocket). This study on moa is useful to show that *all* humans have and will be destructive to the habitat. Being hypocritical for the purpose of guilt-tripping another ethnic group is false and immoral. My fellow New Zealanders should not fall for this scam any longer!
      • by jrumney (197329)

        The New Zealand Maori (of which I am a member) sometimes claim that our culture promotes sustainability and care for the environment.

        I suspect that when animals are hunted like moa, rather than gathered like shellfish, then it was more difficult for the tohunga to spot that there was a supply problem that needed to be addressed before it became too late.

      • Re:Uh what? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by taniwha (70410) on Tuesday March 18, 2014 @12:34AM (#46513505) Homepage Journal

        I've always thought that what happened in NZ sort of just proves human nature (not pakeha or Maori, just humans) - the Maori showed up with well developed cultural systems for managing fisheries, having island hopped through the Pacific for maybe 1000 years before they came to NZ - what they didn't have was rules, or experience managing moa, or forestry and as a result burned a lot of it down to get at those tasty moa - basically the same thing the Europeans would do when showing up somewhere new - exploit it like crazy - I'm sure if the moa had lasted longer, maybe if NZ was a bit bigger, people would have figured out how to manage moa - numbers would get low, a tapu would be proclaimed, after a while it would be lifted and the moa population would have stablised ..... by the time people figured it out it was probably too late

      • That's an interesting narrative you have there. The settlements were/are about the Treaty and nothing else. The cultural stuff is important, and it's possible for a culture to appreciate the importance of the environment around them, and also over succeeding generations, make a total mess of it.

        It doesn't sound like you've read 'The Penguin History of New Zealand'. It should be required reading in schools. You should do yourself a favour and find a copy, if only the read the first two/three chapters.

    • by kenj123 (658721)
      I'm skeptical that the 'tragedy of the commons' is solvable with privatization. If somebody owned the land and was trying to maximize output, they would probably kill all the birds and raise yams or something that had a better ROI. Mankind needs to come up with some better policies on what the planet should look like in the future. I've heard the author talking about the 6th extinction quite a bit in the media lately. They have talked indirectly about extinction triage, and it needs to be addressed more
      • "they would probably kill all the birds and raise yams or something that had a better ROI. "

        Reminds me of the 'Highland Clearances' of Scotland. Landowners realised that they had farmer tenants living on land which would have a better ROI were it instead used used to raise sheep. Forceful evictions followed, leaving many families suddenly kicked out of their homes with almost no notice.

  • by erroneus (253617) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:54PM (#46511995) Homepage

    I know when other people are around, I cannot use the bathroom. Just too caught up in knowing there are other people around. What if the birds had the same problem and since the people never went away, they just died.

  • debate? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Monday March 17, 2014 @07:59PM (#46512047)

    The study adds to an ongoing debate about whether past peoples lived and hunted animals in a sustainable manner or were largely to blame for the extermination of numerous species

    There's actually a debate?

    The noble savage is a character of the imagination.

    • by hibiki_r (649814)

      Not really. We had Macho Man Randy Savage. He was both noble and a Savage. When Q'uq'umatz was going to destroy the world, at the end of the Mayan Calendar, Macho gave his life to wrestle the world away from the grip of the great creator snake. What can be nobler than that?

    • by TubeSteak (669689)

      The noble savage is a character of the imagination.

      North/Central/South American tribes were slash and burning their way through the forests long before the European world showed up on their doorstep.

      The theory is that Europeans actually promoted forest growth as they drove out the native Americans and broke the cycle of man made forest fires.

      • by hey! (33014)

        The theory is that Europeans actually promoted forest growth as they drove out the native Americans and broke the cycle of man made forest fires.

        Actually it was disease. The population of the Americas dropped by 80% or more due to diseases introduced by contact with the Europeans. That's why the Europeans were able to conquer the Americas relatively easily. Had there been 5x or 10x as many Indians the story might have been different.

        The native cultures of the Americas was extremely diverse, so it's hard to make generalizations about the ecological sustainability of their societies. There's clear examples of human driven ecological collapse in the

        • by geekoid (135745)

          " The population of the Americas dropped by 80% or more due to diseases introduced by contact with the Europeans"
          actually we do not know if it was caused with European contact.

          The largest population drop happened between observational visits, and in areas far removed for where the few Europeans had appeared.
          When the Europeans did arrive, they found empty cities and farm land. Could it have been European disease? yes, but we really don't know about that period. It could just as easily been a mutation of a di

  • by Irate Engineer (2814313) on Monday March 17, 2014 @08:42PM (#46512335)
    Really, every other major predator can chow down to their heart's content, screwing sustainability with long, hard strokes, and they get a pass, because they are furry and noble-looking in posters.

    But humans? Nay! Once you become self-aware you have to be sustainable, stewards of the Earth, resurrect the mammoth, replant forests, self-flaggelate for our unending sins, yadda yadda.

    Here's a hint for you - humans are animals. Eat-Fuck-Kill. That has been our mantra ever since we first banged two rocks together. Now it is Eat (Vegetarian) Fuck (only our spouses, with condoms) Kill (never, unless the government says it is OK). $It's all our fault, for any value of $It.

    I wish I was a wolf.
    • by rmdingler (1955220) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:11PM (#46512483)
      You're correct in that we are all animals and we share a history of surviving due to our past proficiency as killers, eaters, and, well, fuckers.

      What has not escaped my attention is our obligation to care for and about our environment now that we are self-aware.

      Perhaps we are the one species destined to rise above our savage origins to successfully micromanage the very environment that spawned us. If we're not, in another 200,000 years or so, the next big-brained alpha will have a run at it.

    • by i.r.id10t (595143)

      Thing is, is that we (humans) have broken our Darwinian evolution template ... we (humans) can take and plunder and consume not just other animals, but all sorts of resources that also affect other animals in a negative fashion - straight up extinction, denial of use of breeding/nesting areas, wiping out food sources, etc. For a while, we (humans) can "get around that" by becoming better at taking the resources to consume, but eventually they will all be consumed.

      On top of that, our opposable thumbs along

      • <quote><p>So... either we need to voluntarily reduce our population to about 1% of what it is today (but please make plans for the bodies first!) or we need to be stewards, 'cause if we (humans) don't then in a few hundred years it will be too late.</p></quote>

        Too late for what? The earth / Mother Nature doesn't give a damn. Humans went extinct? Shit...25 other species of critter snuffed today, and maybe another few evolved into being. 4 billion years of stewardship vs our several hu
      • by amorsen (7485)

        either we need to voluntarily reduce our population to about 1% of what it is today (but please make plans for the bodies first!) or we need to be stewards

        Or else? What happens if we don't do either? You failed to specify that.

    • Very few wolves build boats to colonize islands, nor are they nearly as effective of hunters as people are. The wolf doesn't have to worry about sustainability because it's too inept to fully destroy its own food chain.
    • by amorsen (7485)

      Once you become self-aware you have to be sustainable, stewards of the Earth

      Screw the Earth. Once you become self-aware, you have to not cause lots of your fellow self-aware beings to die. That is what sustainability is really about, beneath the sugar-sweet crust.

  • by Jason Pollock (45537) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:03PM (#46512453) Homepage

    The Maori didn't use bows and arrows.

  • by Applehu Akbar (2968043) on Monday March 17, 2014 @09:20PM (#46512539)

    New Zealand is so isolated that other than three species of small bat, no mammals whatever evolved in NZ until the day the Maori landed. So we have a Colorado-sized pair of islands inhabited by an assortment of species too ridiculous even for Australia, and with no adaptation to the presence of animals. There's the giant earthworm that glows in the dark:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/n... [nzherald.co.nz] ...the three-eyed lizard...
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T... [wikipedia.org] ...the living bug zapper...
    http://www.waitomo.com/waitomo... [waitomo.com] ...and the 12-foot tall ground-dwelling bird - no animals to run from, remember, that was unfortunately delicious:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M... [wikipedia.org]

    The Maori had no weapons more advanced than clubs, but that was all they needed. Think of it as the world's first, biggest, most environmentally-insensitive tailgate party, after which the species was no moa.

    • <quote><p>
      <a href="http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&amp;objectid=10793961">http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/n...</a> ...the three-eyed lizard...
      </p></quote>

      However, it later evolved into the one-eyed lizard, which became ubiquitous, much to the dismay of the female homo sapiens.
    • after which the species was no moa.

      *Badum tish*

  • You introduce a carnivore to an isolated environment where a species or group of species' survived that went extinct everywhere else because of carnivores they could not outrun, outsmart or outbreed, and just survived because no such carnivores existed where they survived.

    Take a wild guess what's going to happen.

  • Over the last few centuries there has been a stereotypically romanticized view of the natives in the jungles and grass plains around the world as living in harmony with the nature, until the white man came. That pathetic misconception is perpetuated by their old wise men, typically alcoholics and in turn romanticizing anything from their grandfathers childhood. Good to see some white man high-tech arguments pointing fingers at the scum who'd better invent their own refrigerators before complaining. I'm fed
  • The study adds to an ongoing debate about whether past peoples lived and hunted animals in a sustainable manner or were largely to blame for the extermination of numerous species

    Yes, in exactly the same way that the existence of fossils adds to an ongoing debate about whether the Earth was created 6000 years ago.

    WHAT THE FUCK

  • It is well known the humans never hunted in a sustainable way.
    The only one claiming a debate are people that fall for the naturalistic fallacy.

  • According to TFA, the work was based on extensive analysis of Moa genetic material obtained from bones. The evidence was that the Moa was in fact thriving (becoming more genetically diverse) until humans came along and ate everything Moa-related. Eggs, adults, you name it. This makes me wonder if the Moa might be a better candidate for cloning and reintroduction than something like a Mammoth. Use an Ostrich as the donor and then let them loose on the South Island. NZ is pretty eco-aware these days so it see

  • Yes, they don't exist Noa Moa.

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