Nuclear DNA sequences detect species limits in ancient moa

Nature. 2003 Sep 11;425(6954):175-8. doi: 10.1038/nature01838.


Ancient DNA studies have typically used multi-copy mitochondrial DNA sequences. This is largely because single-locus nuclear genes have been difficult to recover from sub-fossil material, restricting the scope of ancient DNA research. Here, we have isolated single-locus nuclear DNA markers to assign the sex of 115 extinct moa and, in combination with a mitochondrial DNA phylogeny, tested competing hypotheses about the specific status of moa taxa. Moa were large ratite birds that showed extreme size variation both within and among species. For some taxa, this large variation was hypothesized to represent sexual dimorphism, while for others it was argued to reflect the existence of different species. Our results show that moa were characterized by extreme reverse sexual dimorphism and as a result we have been able to clarify the number of moa species. For example, we show that the three recognized 'species' of Dinornis comprised only two monophyletic groups and that two of these 'species' comprised individuals of one sex only. This study also illustrates that single-locus nuclear DNA sequences can be consistently recovered from ancient material.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Constitution
  • Cell Nucleus / genetics*
  • DNA / analysis*
  • DNA / genetics
  • DNA / isolation & purification
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Femur / anatomy & histology
  • Fossils*
  • Male
  • Palaeognathae / anatomy & histology
  • Palaeognathae / classification*
  • Palaeognathae / genetics*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Sex Determination Analysis
  • Species Specificity


  • DNA