Merging ancient and modern DNA: extinct seabird taxon rediscovered in the North Tasman Sea

Tammy E. Steeves, Richard N. Holdaway, Marie L. Hale, Emma McLay, Ian A W McAllan, Margaret Christian, Mark E. Hauber, Michael Bunce

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    21 Citations (Scopus)


    Ancient DNA has revolutionized the way in which evolutionary biologists research both extinct and extant taxa, from the inference of evolutionary history to the resolution of taxonomy. Here, we present, to our knowledge, the first study to report the rediscovery of an 'extinct' avian taxon, the Tasman booby (Sula tasmani), using classical palaeontological data combined with ancient and modern DNA data. Contrary to earlier work, we show an overlap in size between fossil and modern birds in the North Tasman Sea (classified currently as S. tasmani and Sula dactylatra fullagari, respectively). In addition, we show that Holocene fossil birds have mitochondrial control region sequences that are identical to those found in modern birds. These results indicate that the Tasman booby is not an extinct taxon: S. dactylatra fullagari O'Brien & Davies, 1990 is therefore a junior synonym of Sula tasmani van Tets, Meredith, Fullagar & Davidson, 1988 and all North Tasman Sea boobies should be known as S. d. tasmani. In addition to reporting the rediscovery of an extinct avian taxon, our study highlights the need for researchers to be cognizant of multidisciplinary approaches to understanding taxonomy and past biodiversity.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)94-97
    Number of pages4
    JournalBiology Letters
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2010


    • Ancient DNA
    • Masked booby
    • Mitochondrial DNA
    • Phylogeography
    • Sula dactylatra fullagari
    • Sula tasmani


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