A number of biological specimens in Te Papa’s collection, particularly old specimens, lack information about when and where they were collected. This information may have been lost since the specimen was collected or was simply not recorded at the time.
However, all is not lost! Sometimes we can use DNA to determine where a specimen was collected. We recently used DNA sequences to examine the provenance of a number of Te Papa’s unlabelled kiwi specimens.
One particularly stunning specimen we looked at is this articulated kiwi skeleton.
As I mentioned in an earlier blog on kiwi the bones of great spotted kiwi and the three species of brown species are very similar in size and shape and can’t be distinguished. Therefore, this kiwi skeleton could have potentially belonged to any of these four species.
To obtain bone material for our genetic analysis we drilled a small hole underneath the pelvis. Our aim was to minimize the visible damage to the skeleton.
We compared the specimen’s DNA sequence to sequences previously obtained from kiwi from known locations around New Zealand.
The results showed that this kiwi skeleton is a Tokoeka (also known as Southern brown kiwi) from Stewart Island. This result increases the scientific value of this skeleton and is particularly exciting because there aren’t many kiwi from Stewart Island in museum collections.