DNA finds kiwi’s origins: Introducing Stewie

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. 

Articulated kiwi skeleton from Te Papa's collection. Photo by Lara Shepherd.

Articulated kiwi skeleton from Te Papa’s collection. Photo by Lara Shepherd.

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.

Close-up of the hole we drilled in the pelvis to obtain bone for DNA analysis. Photo by Lara Shepherd.

Close-up of the hole we drilled in the pelvis to obtain bone for DNA analysis. Photo by Lara Shepherd.

 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.

Link to our study.

One Response

  1. Nicola Woodhouse

    Stewie is really cute and the info is fascinating, but he would have looked so much better against a plain background, especially the detail photo, where the flouro tube is particularly distracting. Similarly distracting are the cupboard, map, masking tape and box of printouts in top photo, unless they have documentrary significance.

    Reply

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