Flight of the dodo

Shapiro B, Sibthorpe D, Rambaut A, Austin J, Wragg GM, Bininda-Emonds OR, Lee PL & Cooper A

(2002) Science 295, 1683.

The evolutionary history of the dodo is very poorly understood. Like many avian island endemics, a high degree of morphological change associated with flightlessness and gigantism has obscured phylogenetic relationships, and historically the dodo has been linked with avian groups ranging from the ratites to the raptors. Since the mid-1800s, morphological studies have linked the dodo (initially Didus ineptus , now Raphus cucullatus )and its presumed close relative the solitaire ( Pezophaps solitaria )with the Columbiformes (pigeons and doves), but their exact position is unresolved and they have been placed in many positions within the cosmopolitan Columbidae or in their own family, Raphidae, outside the Columbidae but within Columbiformes. To answer these questions, we extracted DNA and amplified 1.4 kb of mitochondrial sequence [360-base pair (bp) 12 SrRNA and 1050-bp cytochrome b] from 37 species of pigeons and doves, including the dodo, the solitaire, and multiple members of each of the five extant subfamilies. Short overlapping fragments were amplified by polymerase chain reaction (PCR), with museum specimens limited to 120 to 180 bp. Strict ancient DNA procedures were used to minimize contamination and detect nuclear mitochondrial copies, PCR products were cloned, and the solitaire sequences were independently replicated at the Natural History Museum, London.

Andrew Rambaut, 2007