Takah. The takah is a large flightless rail (a land-based relative of our familiar coot and moorhen) from New Zealand. Many species similar to this went extinct in the tropical Pacific in the years following first colonisation of their island homes by humans. The takah survived because New Zealand is a large, mountainous and wet island, which as a result suffered less deforestation, and had more places for birds to hide from hunters. Even so, for 50 years it was thought to be extinct until a small population was discovered still alive in 1948 in the remote Murchison Mountains. (Credit: © ZSL) Enlarge

Mar. 25, 2013 — Research carried out by the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and collaborators reveals that the last region on earth to be colonised by humans was home to more than 1,000 species of birds that went extinct soon after people reached their island homes.

The paper was published today (March 25th) in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Almost 4,000 years ago, tropical Pacific Islands were an untouched paradise, but the arrival of the first people in places like Hawaii and Fiji caused irreversible damage to these natural havens, due to overhunting and deforestation. As a result, birds disappeared. But understanding the scale and extent of these extinctions has been hampered by uncertainties in the fossil record.

Professor Tim Blackburn, Director of ZSL's Institute of Zoology says: "We studied fossils from 41 tropical Pacific islands and using new techniques we were able to gauge how many extra species of bird disappeared without leaving any trace."

They found that 160 species of non-passerine land birds (non-perching birds which generally have feet designed for specific functions, for example webbed for swimming) went extinct without a trace after the first humans arrived on these islands alone.

More of the story, click image