London: Scientist have created a 3D atlas of the skeletal anatomy of the dodo for the first time since its extinction, based on two exceptional dodo skeletons that have remained unstudied for over a century.
This atlas represents the culmination of nearly five years of work and thousands of man-hours of digital investigation on the only two associated, near-complete skeletons of the dodo in existence.
The dodo represents one of the best-known examples of extinction caused by humans, yet we know surprisingly little about this flightless pigeon from a scientific perspective.
The new atlas is the first to show accurate relative proportions and to describe several previously unknown bones of the dodo skeleton, including knee caps, ankle and wrist bones.
"Despite a wealth of scientific and popular documentation, the life history of the dodo continues to elude us," said Julian Hume, from The Natural History Museum in UK.
The atlas opens new pathways for the investigation of the paleobiology and evolution of what may arguably be one of the most famous, yet poorly known animals that went extinct in recent human history.
"Compared to living pigeons, the dodo's skull is very different; it is much larger, with a heavy beak, and it has undergone significant changes in shape," said Hanneke Meijer, from the University of Bergen in Norway.
"It is easy to see why early naturalists had a hard time placing the dodo with pigeons, but its skull is testament to its unique evolutionary trajectory," Meijer said.
The dodo skeletons were discovered more than a century ago by an amateur naturalist, Etienne Thirioux, who was a barber by trade. The Thirioux skeleton housed in the Mauritius Institute represents the only known complete dodo skeleton, and the only one comprising the bones of a single individual.
The second Thirioux specimen, now housed in the Durban Natural Science Museum, is nearly complete but may have been assembled from the remains of more than one bird.
In contrast, all other known dodo skeletons are incomplete and typically made up from the bones of many different individuals.
"Our anatomical atlas of the Thirioux skeletons, produced using modern techniques such as 3D laser surface scanning, opens a new window into the ecology of this iconic extinct bird," the researchers said.
The study was published in the journal Memoir of the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology.