A New York Times‘ article from July about the new expedition to explore Mauritius’ sites: Newfound Island Graveyard May Yield Clues to Dodo Life of Long Ago:
The origins of the dodo are mysterious. Studies on its DNA indicate that it descended from pigeons. The dodo’s closest relative was the solitaire, another extinct flightless bird that lived only on the nearby island of Rodrigues. […]
Plant-eating mammals play a major role in shaping their ecosystems. Dodos may have thinned the Mauritius forests, and some plants may have come to depend on them to spread their seeds.
With almost no fossils to study, scientists had been unable to test these ideas. Now it will be possible, thanks to the discovery of the dodo graveyard. Dr. Rijsdijk and Frans Bunnik, also of the Geological Survey of the Netherlands, found it almost by accident. […]
Based on the underlying geology of the site, Dr. Rijsdijk estimates that it is 3,000 years old. More precise dating based on carbon isotopes is now under way.
Dr. Rijsdijk said that the fossils appeared to have formed in a forest lake. A big storm may have washed the animals and plants into the lake, where their bones settled into a single layer.
“Think of it like a snapshot,” Dr. Burney of Fordham said. “You set up a big camera and photograph the landscape at a particular instance. You’ve got the dodos and the other species, all captured in a moment.”
The scientists are now studying the material more carefully. Some are looking for ancient DNA, while others will analyze the dodo bones to get clues to their diet. “We may be really be able to shine a light on the dodo’s role in the ecosystem,” Dr. Rijsdijk said. The scientists will present early findings at the University of Oxford in September and will return to Mare aux Songes in 2007.
By understanding the Mauritius ecosystem before humans arrived, they hope to find clues to the dodo’s extinction. Dodos were easy to hunt, but hunting alone probably did not wipe them out. Recent research indicates that the early Dutch settlers rarely ate dodo meat. Nor did the deforestation of the island doom the dodo. Major forest clearing did not begin until after the dodo became extinct.
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