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Mystery bird is dodo relative

Nature volume 511, page 387 (24 July 2014) | Download Citation


Image: Spotted Green Pigeon by Joseph Smit/Bull. Liverpool Museums 1898/Natl Museums Liverpool

A dead pigeon specimen that has lain for years in a UK museum has been confirmed by DNA analysis as a new species — and as a relative of the dodo.

Tim Heupink of Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia, and his colleagues extracted and sequenced very short DNA fragments from the only remaining specimen of the spotted green pigeon (Caloenas maculata; artist's impression pictured). After being described in 1783, it ended up in a museum in Liverpool, UK, but nothing else was known about it.

Some researchers had claimed that the specimen was merely a Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), but the authors determined that C. maculata is a separate species and that both birds share an ancestor with the dodo (Raphus cucullatus). This ancestor was probably a semi-terrestrial bird that island-hopped from southeast Asia or India across the oceans, eventually evolving into the dodo and other pigeon species that live on remote islands.

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