Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Vicars & Vagrants

image credit Juan Sagardia

The flightless takahe and flying swamphen or pukeko (P. porphyrio) are related, but molecular and fossil evidence indicates that the swamphen arrived in New Zealand about 300 years ago and probably from Australia – after the takahe evolved. Curiously, takahe plumage is more similar to the swamphen P. madagascariensis from Africa (pictured here; image credit Juan Sagardia) than the one from Australia, implying a shared ancestry that is also supported by molecular data.

By Steve Trewick

DNA studies of New Zealand’s birds are causing a rethink of the importance of colonisation events in the evolution of its endemic species.

Steve Trewick is Principal Investigator with the Phoenix Group at the Institute of Natural Resources, Massey University (

To view this article subscribe or purchase a yearly pass here.