Ancient DNA studies of the New Zealand kiwi and wattlebirds : evolution, conservation and culture : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements of Doctor of Philosophy in Molecular BioSciences at Massey University, Albany, New Zealand
Ancient DNA was used to provide a temporal perspective for examining a number of
evolutionary, conservation and cultural questions involving members of the New
Zealand avifauna. Ancient mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) sequences were used to
examine the past levels and patterns of genetic diversity in the five species of New
Zealand kiwi (Apterygidae). Brown kiwi, particularly in the South Island, exhibited
high levels of genetic structuring with nearly every population exhibiting private
mitochondrial haplotypes. The extinction of a large number of brown kiwi populations
has, therefore, led to the loss of a large amount of genetic variation in these species. The
past ranges of great spotted kiwi and the three brown kiwi species, whose bones are
morphologically indistinguishable, were determined. This information can aid
conservation programmes aiming to re-introduce kiwi to regions where they are now
In contrast to the high level of genetic structuring in South Island brown kiwi, the
majority of little spotted kiwi samples from the South Island shared a common
haplotype. The difference in phylogeography between brown kiwi and little spotted
kiwi is hypothesised to relate to differences in their dispersal behaviour and/or their
population histories. The addition of ancient samples of little spotted kiwi from the
North Island indicated a complex relationship with great spotted kiwi.
Nuclear microsatellite DNA markers were isolated from North Island brown kiwi and
tested for cross amplification in the other kiwi species. Five loci were polymorphic in
all kiwi species. Preliminary analyses of genotyping results indicated that the kiwi
species were distinguished by assignment tests and that subdivision may occur within
several of the species.
An extensive reference database of modern and ancient mtDNA sequences was used to
determine species and provenance of a number of unlabelled museum subfossil bones
and skins. This method was also used to examine provenance of brown kiwi feathers
from Maori artefacts (cloaks and baskets).
Ancient DNA methodology was also used in a molecular examination of the
relationships of a second endemic avian family, the New Zealand wattlebirds
(Callaeatidae). Analyses of nuclear gene sequences, c-mos and RAG-1, revealed
kokako, saddleback and huia comprised a strongly supported monophyletic group. A
divergence time estimate for the New Zealand wattlebirds indicated that they are more
likely to have arrived by transoceanic dispersal than have a Gondwanan origin.
Sequences from three mtDNA genes, 12S, ND2 and cytochrome b, were also analysed
but could not resolve the relationships between the three genera.
Microsatellite DNA from the extinct New Zealand huia exhibited considerable genetic
variation, exceeding that found in extant North Island saddleback, from which the loci
were isolated. Assignment tests indicated no genetic structuring within huia, although
interpretation was complicated by a lack of provenance details for many of the skins.
The results presented here suggest that ancient DNA can not only provide information
about the relationships of extinct taxa but also demonstrates the importance of placing
the present day genetic diversity found in endangered taxa within the context of past
patterns and levels of genetic variation.
Following content removed due to copyright restrictions:
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