More than one way of being a Moa: Differences in leg bone robustness map divergent evolutionary trajectories in Dinornithidae and Emeidae (Dinornithiformes)

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Abstract

The extinct moa of New Zealand included three families (Megalapterygidae; Dinornithidae; Emeidae) of flightless palaeognath bird, ranging in mass from <15 kg to >200 kg. They are perceived to have evolved extremely robust leg bones, yet current estimates of body mass have very wide confidence intervals. Without reliable estimators of mass, the extent to which dinornithid and emeid hindlimbs were more robust than modern species remains unclear. Using the convex hull volumetric-based method on CT-scanned skeletons, we estimate the mass of a female Dinornis robustus (Dinornithidae) at 196 kg (range 155-245 kg) and of a female Pachyornis australis (Emeidae) as 50 kg (range 33-68 kg). Finite element analysis of CT-scanned femora and tibiotarsi of two moa and six species of modern palaeognath showed that P. australis experienced the lowest values for stress under all loading conditions, confirming it to be highly robust. In contrast, stress values in the femur of D. robustus were similar to those of modern flightless birds, whereas the tibiotarsus experienced the highest level of stress of any palaeognath. We consider that these two families of Dinornithiformes diverged in their biomechanical responses to selection for robustness and mobility, and exaggerated hindlimb strength was not the only successful evolutionary pathway. © 2013 Brassey et al.

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Brassey, C. A., Holdaway, R. N., Packham, A. G., Anné, J., Manning, P. L., & Sellers, W. I. (2013). More than one way of being a Moa: Differences in leg bone robustness map divergent evolutionary trajectories in Dinornithidae and Emeidae (Dinornithiformes). PLoS ONE, 8(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0082668

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