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Ancient DNA Provides New Insights into the Evolutionary History of New Zealand's Extinct Giant Eagle
From PLoS Biology:
Prior to human settlement 700 years ago New Zealand had no terrestrial mammalsĂ˘â?¬"apart from three species of batsĂ˘â?¬"instead, approximately 250 avian species dominated the ecosystem. At the top of the food chain was the extinct Haast's eagle, Harpagornis moorei. H. moorei (10Ă˘â?¬"15 kg; 2Ă˘â?¬"3 m wingspan) was 30%Ă˘â?¬"40% heavier than the largest extant eagle (the harpy eagle, Harpia harpyja), and hunted moa up to 15 times its weight. In a dramatic example of morphological plasticity and rapid size increase, we show that the H. moorei was very closely related to one of the world's smallest extant eagles, which is one-tenth its mass. This spectacular evolutionary change illustrates the potential speed of size alteration within lineages of vertebrates, especially in island ecosystems.
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