New Zealand’s own species of black swan — dubbed poūwa — was a different species to the Australian cousin which replaced it, according to research published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.
The poūwa was hunted to extinction shortly after humans arrived in the 13th Century. By using ancient DNA, New Zealand researchers from the University of Otago, Canterbury Museum and the Museum of New Zealand-Te Papa Tongarewa found that it was heavier and larger — weighing up to 10kg compared to the slighter 6 kg of the Aussie species now common around New Zealand.
Writing on Sciblogs, lead author Dr Nic Rawlence from the University of Otago said the poūwa had “very elongated legs, and proportionally shorter wings”, suggesting it was well on the way to becoming flightless when it became extinct and was living more on land than on water.
It had long been assumed the two swan species were the same, and that the Aussie birds had simply replaced those hunted by early Māori, so the researchers caution that even closely-related species might not be surrogates for extinct species.
Dr Charlotte Oskam from Murdoch University, Australia, told New Scientist that: “Prior to Polynesian settlement, birds in New Zealand had a pretty easy life… They were naive to terrestrial predators and would have been easy pickings for the Polynesian settlers.”
A number of local media outlets covered the discovery of the new (extinct) species:
Sciblogs: Introducing the Pouwa: New Zealand’s unique and ill-fated black swan
NZCity: NZ once had own black swan: study
NZ Herald: NZ had its own big black swan, the pouwa
Newshub: New research reveals New Zealand had its own species of black swan
New Scientist: Mysterious mega-swan once waddled through New Zealand
Stuff.co.nz: Ancient black swans hunted to extinction, NZ’s swans from Australia, new research finds
Radio NZ: NZ’s ill-fated burly black swan
Otago Daily Times: At last, NZ’s own swan