This Extinct Species Of Bird Came Back From The Dead, Scientists Say
Whoa! This is an extremely rare process.
A previously extinct species of bird returned from the dead, reclaiming the island it previously lived on and re-evolving itself back into existence, scientists have said.
The white-throated rail colonized the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean and evolved to become flightless, before being completely wiped out when the island disappeared below the sea around 136,000 years ago.
But researchers found similar fossils from before and after that event, showing that the chicken-sized bird re-appeared when sea levels fell again a few thousand years later, re-colonized the island and again lost the ability to fly.
The flightless rail still live on Aldabra to this day.
Scientists dub the extremely rare process “iterative evolution” — the repeated evolution of a species from the same ancestor at different times in history.
The team’s study, published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, marks the first time the process has been seen in rails, and is one of the “most significant” instances ever found in birds, according to the authors.
“We know of no other example in rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently,” co-author David Martill, of the University of Portsmouth, said in a statement.
The rail’s return to Aldabra is not the only time in its lineage that it has escaped extinction.
The parent species of the rail, indigenous to Madagascar, would frequently see its population explode, forcing the birds to migrate in great numbers from the island off the coast of East Africa.
Many of those that flew north or south drowned in the Indian Ocean. Those that went west landed in Africa, where predators hunted them.
But the lucky few who went east ended up on islands including Mauritius, Réunion (pictured below) and Aldabra, the latter of which was studied by the researchers.
The rails on Aldabra lost the ability to fly over time because the lack of predators made it unnecessary — just as the dodo of Mauritius did.
Unfortunately, that gave them no means of escape when the island was submerged, wiping out all its flora and fauna.
But unlike the dodo, which became extinct in the 17th century, the white-throated rail (pictured below in an Instagram post from @birdquest_tours) returned to tell the tale once the island re-emerged and birds started migrating to the destination again.