Ancient DNA microsatellite analyses of the extinct New Zealand giant moa (Dinornis robustus) identify relatives within a single fossil site

Heredity (Edinb). 2015 Dec;115(6):481-7. doi: 10.1038/hdy.2015.48. Epub 2015 Jun 3.


By analysing ancient DNA (aDNA) from 74 (14)C-dated individuals of the extinct South Island giant moa (Dinornis robustus) of New Zealand, we identified four dyads of closely related adult females. Although our total sample included bones from four fossil deposits located within a 10 km radius, these eight individuals had all been excavated from the same locality. Indications of kinship were based on high pairwise genetic relatedness (rXY) in six microsatellite markers genotyped from aDNA, coupled with overlapping radiocarbon ages. The observed rXY values in the four dyads exceeded a conservative cutoff value for potential relatives obtained from simulated data. In three of the four dyads, the kinship was further supported by observing shared and rare mitochondrial haplotypes. Simulations demonstrated that the proportion of observed dyads above the cutoff value was at least 20 times higher than expected in a randomly mating population with temporal sampling, also when introducing population structure in the simulations. We conclude that the results must reflect social structure in the moa population and we discuss the implications for future aDNA research.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bone and Bones
  • DNA, Mitochondrial / genetics
  • Extinction, Biological*
  • Female
  • Fossils*
  • Genetics, Population
  • Haplotypes
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Microsatellite Repeats*
  • New Zealand
  • Palaeognathae / genetics*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA


  • DNA, Mitochondrial