New insights into an old bird

November 06, 2014

Berlin, Germany (November, 2014) - The dodo is among the most famous extinct creatures, and a poster child for human-caused extinction events. Despite its notoriety, and the fact that the species was alive during recorded human history, little is actually known about how this animal lived, looked, and behaved. A new study of the only known complete skeleton from a single bird takes advantage of modern 3-D laser scanning technology to open a new window into the life of this famous extinct bird. The study was presented at the 74th Annual Meeting of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology in Estrel, Berlin.

Leon Claessens, Associate Professor at the College of the Holy Cross, and lead researcher on the study said that, "the 3-D laser surface scans we made of the fragile Thirioux dodo skeletons enable us to reconstruct how the dodo walked, moved and lived to a level of detail that has never been possible before. There are so many outstanding questions about the dodo bird that we can answer with this new knowledge."

A complete dodo skeleton, found by an amateur collector and barber, Etienne Thirioux, on the island of Mauritius between 1899 and 1917, has remained unstudied, even though it is the only complete dodo skeleton from a single individual bird known to exist. All other skeletons are incomplete composites, meaning that they are compiled from more than one individual. In addition, Thirioux constructed a second, partially composite skeleton, which contains many bones that also belong to a single bird. "Being able to examine the skeleton of a single, individual dodo, which is not made up from as many individual birds as there are bones, as is the case in all those other composite skeletons, truly allows us to appreciate the way the dodo looked and see how tall or rotund it really was," said Juilan Hume, of the Natural History Museum UK, a co-author on the study.

The scans were performed on site in Port Louis, Mauritius and Durban, South Africa, and allow examination of the biology of this enigmatic extinct bird in detail for the first time. Using the newest digital tools and techniques, the scans provide an insight into how the flightless dodo may have evolved its giant size, and how it walked and lived in its forest home. According to Kenneth Rijsdijk, of an Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, University of Amsterdam and a study author, "the skull of the dodo is so large and its beak so robust, that it is easy to understand that the earliest naturalists thought it was related to vultures and other birds of prey, rather than the pigeon family."

Having a complete single individual has allowed study of the dodo's sternum (breastbone) in context. Its size relative to the closely related extinct flightless Rodrigues solitaire, which was known to have used its wings in combat, but lacking a keel on the sternum, unlike flying pigeons and the Rodrigues solitaire indicates that the dodo may have shown less intraspecific antagonistic behavior. Together with new information regarding dodo population structure, derived from the study of disarticulated remains from another locality, the Thirioux dodos open a new window upon an evolutionary experiment in rapid increase in body size and shift in locomotor mode, cut short by human-induced ecosystem destruction.

"The history of the dodo provides an important case study of the effects of human disturbance of the ecosystem, from which there is still much to learn that can inform modern conservation efforts for today's endangered animals," said Claessens.
About the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

Founded in 1940 by thirty-four paleontologists, the Society now has more than 2,300 members representing professionals, students, artists, preparators, and others interested in VP. It is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, with the object of advancing the science of vertebrate paleontology.

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology website:

Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology

The Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology (JVP) is the leading journal of professional vertebrate paleontology and the flagship publication of the Society. It was founded in 1980 by Dr. Jiri Zidek and publishes contributions on all aspects of vertebrate paleontology.

Journal Web site:


Department of Biology
College of the Holy Cross
Worcester, MA


Naturalis Biodiversity Center
The Netherlands
+1 508 332 6361

Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics
University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands
+31 6 30095006

Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont
+31 6 14978511

The Natural History Museum
+44 (0)7753123222

University of Mauritius

Society of Vertebrate Paleontology

Related Ecosystem Articles from Brightsurf:

Breast cancer 'ecosystem' reveals possible new targets for treatment
Garvan researchers have used cellular genomics to uncover promising therapy targets for triple negative breast cancer.

Unparalleled inventory of the human gut ecosystem
Scientists gathered and published over 200 000 genomes from the human gut microbiome.

Cycad plants provide an important 'ecosystem service'
A study published in the June 2020 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Horticulturae shows that cycads, which are in decline and among the world's most threatened group of plants, provide an important service to their neighboring organisms.

More ecosystem engineers create stability, preventing extinctions
Biological builders like beavers, elephants, and shipworms re-engineer their environments.

Ecosystem degradation could raise risk of pandemics
Environmental destruction may make pandemics more likely and less manageable, new research suggests.

Improving the operation and performance of Wi-Fi networks for the 5G/6G ecosystem
An article published in the advanced online edition of the journal Computer Communications shows that the use of machine learning can improve the operation and performance of the Wi-Fi networks of the future, those of the 5G/6G ecosystem.

A lost world and extinct ecosystem
The field study site of Pinnacle Point, South Africa, sits at the center of the earliest evidence for symbolic behavior, complex pyrotechnology, projectile weapons, and the first use of foods from the sea, both geographically and scientifically, having contributed much on the evolutionary road to being a modern human.

Ecosystem services are not constrained by borders
What do chocolate, migratory birds, flood control and pandas have in common?

Late cretaceous dinosaur-dominated ecosystem
A topic of considerable interest to paleontologists is how dinosaur-dominated ecosystems were structured, how dinosaurs and co-occurring animals were distributed across the landscape, how they interacted with one another, and how these systems compared to ecosystems today.

How transient invaders can transform an ecosystem
Study finds microbes can alter an environment dramatically before dying out.

Read More: Ecosystem News and Ecosystem Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to