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Wren DNA Reshapes NZ Geological Theory

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A DNA analysis of living and extinct species of wrens may change theories concerning New Zealand’s geological and evolutionary past, including the possibility that New Zealand wasn’t completely submerged under the ocean 21–25 million years ago.

Acanthisittid wrens are a group of tiny, largely flightless birds found nowhere else in the world. While they are similar in appearance and behaviour to true wrens, they don’t belong to the same family.

“Of the seven species living before humans arrived in New Zealand, only two now remain: the rock wren and the rifleman,” says Dr Kieren Mitchell of the University of Adelaide’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA. “Consequently, little is known about their evolution.”

The study led by Mitchell, published in Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, analysed DNA from three of the extinct species and two living species. “Most surprisingly, we found that some of the wren species were only distantly related to each other, potentially sharing a common ancestor over 25 million years ago,” he says.

“Previously, researchers have suggested that New Zealand was completely submerged 21–25 million years ago, which implies that all of New Zealand’s unique plants and animals must have immigrated and diversified more recently than that time.

“This theory is consistent, for instance, with what is known about the moa,...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.