Wednesday, November 19, 2008

New Species of Extinct Penguin Discovered

New Zealand Yellow Eyed Penguin

A Pair of New Zealand Yellow Eyed Penguins

Waitaha penguin bones

The news is groundbreaking and exciting... this blog will list the news from several sources, but first, from the publisher of the findings and a link to download the paper.


Long lost penguin benefits counterparts

19 Nov 2008

A new species of penguin - the first to become extinct due to human actions - has been discovered by scientists. What's more, the revelation has turned accepted wisdom about extinctions on its head. A team of researchers from the University of Otago discovered the new species - the Waitaha Penguin - whist studying New Zealand's iconic yellow-eyed penguin. The finding is published in the latest issue of Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Surprisingly, the discovery reveals potential for some species to benefit from the extinction of others that are closely related, and from impacts of human predatory behaviour. Yellow eyed penguins are an endangered species, and those found on mainland New Zealand had previously been thought to be the remnants of a declining population. But scientists now understand the species to be more widespread than it was in the past, only moving to the South Island when its sister species and competitor was removed.

The researchers identified the new species using modern DNA analysis tools as well as by comparing the shape and structure of prehistoric penguin bones. Waitaha died out before 1500AD at a time when Polynesian settlers were colonising New Zealand.

The findings highlight how the biological world can respond quickly and dynamically to human impacts, and this kind of occurrence could turn out to be far more common than previously thought. Yet despite the discovery, the yellow-eyed penguin - with a total population of 7000 - remains vulnerable and conservation efforts should continue, say the authors.

News from The Royal Society @

A link to the paper: HERE
Click on pdf beneath the title to download.


New penguin species found in New Zealand

( -- Australian and New Zealand researchers have used ancient DNA from penguin fossils to make a startling discovery that may change the way we view species extinctions.
A team from the University of Adelaide, the University of Otago and Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, has identified a previously unknown penguin species while conducting research on New Zealand’s endangered yellow-eyed penguin, one the world’s rarest penguin species and the subject of an extensive conservation effort.

The Waitaha penguin became extinct after Polynesian settlement but before 1500 AD, creating an opportunity for the yellow-eyed penguin to subsequently colonise the New Zealand mainland from its base in the sub-Antarctic islands.

“Our findings demonstrate that yellow-eyed penguins on mainland New Zealand are not a declining remnant of a previous abundant population, but came from the sub-Antarctic relatively recently and replaced the extinct Waitaha Penguin,” said team member Dr Jeremy Austin, deputy director of the Australasian Centre for Ancient DNA.

“Previous analysis of fossil records and anecdotal evidence suggested that the yellow-eyed penguin was more abundant and widespread in the past, but it now appears they have only been around for 500 years,” he said.

The team, led by University of Otago PhD student Sanne Boessenkool, identified the large-bodied Waitaha Penguin using ancient DNA from prehistoric bones, combined with traditional morphological techniques

“Competition between the two species previously prevented the yellow-eyed penguin from expanding northwards but environmental changes in the predator population, such as the severe decline of sea lions, may have facilitated their colonisation in the South Island.”

Researchers say the surprising finding demonstrates the unexpected ways in which species can respond to human and environmental impacts, and the role of extinction events in shaping our current environment.

Other University of Adelaide members of the research team include Dr Trevor Worthy and Professor Alan Cooper from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

The team’s findings have been published this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, an international biological research journal.

Provided by University of Adelaide via PhysOrg @


Scientists find new penguin, extinct for 500 years

By RAY LILLEY, Associated Press Writer Ray Lilley, Associated Press Writer – Wed Nov 19, 3:25 am ET

Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2008 by the New Zealand Science Media Centre shown is …

WELLINGTON, New Zealand – Researchers studying a rare and endangered species of penguin have uncovered a previously unknown species that disappeared about 500 years ago.

The research suggests that the first humans in New Zealand hunted the newly found Waitaha penguin to extinction by 1500, about 250 years after their arrival on the islands. But the loss of the Waitaha allowed another kind of penguin to thrive — the yellow-eyed species that now also faces extinction, Philip Seddon of Otago University, a co-author of the study, said Wednesday.

The team was testing DNA from the bones of prehistoric modern yellow-eyed penguins for genetic changes associated with human settlement when it found some bones that were older — and had different DNA.

Tests on the older bones "lead us to describe a new penguin species that became extinct only a few hundred years ago," the team reported in a paper in the biological research journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

Polynesian settlers came to New Zealand around 1250 and are known to have hunted species such as the large, flightless moa bird to extinction.

Seddon said dating techniques used on bones pulled from old Maori trash pits revealed a gap in time between the disappearance of the Waitaha and the arrival of the yellow-eyed penguin.

The gap indicates the extinction of the older bird created the opportunity for the newer to colonize New Zealand's main islands around 500 years ago, said Sanne Boessenkool, an Otago University doctoral student who led the team of researchers, including some from Australia's Adelaide University and New Zealand's Canterbury Museum.

Competition between the two penguin species may have previously prevented the yellow-eyed penguin from expanding north, the researchers noted.

David Penny of New Zealand's Massey University, who was not involved in the research, said the Waitaha was an example of another native species that was unable to adapt to a human presence.

"In addition, it is vitally important to know how species, such as the yellow-eyed penguin, are able to respond to new opportunities," he said. "It is becoming apparent that some species can respond to things like climate change, and others cannot. The more we know, the more we can help."

The yellow-eyed penguin is considered one of the world's rarest. An estimated population of 7,000 in New Zealand is the focus of an extensive conservation effort.

Source and first three images: Yahoo News @;_ylt=AqGsIME_rbzt06lx4Q0PgoZvaA8F


Yellow Eyed Penguins

Yellow Eyed Penguin bones in comparison with its extinct cousin, the Waitha

DNA samples were taken from the feet of stuffed penguins

Rare penguin took over from rival

The arrival of humans in New Zealand may have led to the extinction of one penguin species - to the advantage of another.

Writing in the Royal Society journal Proceedings B, researchers say the extinct species lived in areas now home to New Zealand's rare yellow eyed penguin.

The extinction is thought to have occurred as recently as 500 years ago.

Early settlers wiped out many of New Zealand's unique animal species.

Scientists from the University of Otago, New Zealand, say they discovered the new species unintentionally when researching the genetic history of the yellow eyed penguin.

Although there are only around 7,000 yellow eyed penguins they have a wide range, being found on the sub Antarctic Campbell and Auckland islands as well as 700 km (435 miles) further north on the South-East coast of New Zealand's South Island.

DNA evidence

The discovery of the new species was something of a mystery according to Sanne Boessenkool, who led the research.

"They were around 10% smaller [than the yellow eyed penguin] they were very closely related, but we can't say if they had a yellow crown. There are no records of their existence from the local Maori people," she told BBC News.

DNA analysis compared modern penguins with samples from the feet of 100-year-old museum specimens and 500-year-old bones from both the sub-Antarctic islands and early Polynesian settlements on New Zealand's South Island.

The older bones found in South Island were smaller than those from the modern yellow eyed penguins and contained different DNA.

The DNA from the sub-Antarctic islands matched that of the modern birds.

This geographic variation and subtle differences in the structure and shape of the bones led the researchers to conclude that New Zealand's South Island had been home to a different, now extinct penguin and to designate this as a new species.
You get a complete shift in just a couple of hundred years
Sanne Boessenkool, University of Otago

Hunting Penguins

Sanne Boessenkool says it's hard to pinpoint exactly why the penguins became extinct but its likely they were eaten by Polynesian settlers who arrived from about 1280AD.

"The fact we find these bones in archaeological sites, villages or settlements, suggests hunting played a role. The birds were an easy target, easy to take and there were never very many of them,"

The new species has been named Megadyptes Waitaha . The Waitaha were the first Polynesian tribe to occupy South Island.

M. waitaha 's rapid replacement by its close relative the yellow eyed penguin, Megadyptes antipodies, raises questions about current dating techniques and extinction theories, says Sanne Boessenkool.

"Often when we look back in time and date bones we don't think a couple of hundred years is important, but here you get a complete shift in just a couple of hundred years. These patterns might be more common, a view we don't consider when looking at large scale extinction events,"she explained.

Shy and secretive

By the time Europeans arrived in South Island in the 1800s, the yellow eyed penguins had already taken over the sites left by its relative. The bird's breeding behaviour makes it an unlikely coloniser. Sanne BoessenKool has studied them in the field for many years.

"They are very secretive, shy and difficult to monitor, they don't live in big colonies, but build their own nest perhaps under some bushes," she commented.

Despite their fragile foothold the researchers say these incoming penguins probably survived on New Zealand's South Island due to a change in human behaviour.

Either the human settlers moved further north due to a lack of food following the extinction of the earlier penguins and other species, or they had begun to develop some of the conservation principles found in contemporary Maori culture and so saw a need to allow these penguins to survive.

Sanne Boessenkool is now investigating how and when the penguins moved across from the sub-Antarctic Auckland and Campbell islands.

"It is a mystery, were now looking at the ways it may have colonised, if its a small group or if they are still coming," she said.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/11/19 01:55:35 GMT

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