Gene study uncovers new 'insight' on NZ kiwi
Despite the years of research and observation already completed on the New Zealand kiwi, we’re still learning new things about the country’s favourite flightless bird all the time.
As it turns out, our precious kiwi bird is colour blind.
This finding was released in the scientific journal Genome Biology, after researchers sequenced the genome of the North Island brown kiwi.
The study points out that the kiwi is the smallest and only nocturnal species in the ratite family, a group that also included the moa, and still includes species such as the cassowary in Australia. Also, the kiwi is part of just 3 per cent of bird species overall that are nocturnal.
This unique feature of kiwis being nocturnal while other ratites are not may be linked to the fact that they are colour blind, as this change in vision is considered consistent with the changes that occur when mammals adapt to nocturnal lifestyles.
As well as this, the researchers discovered that kiwis have a highly diverse set of smell receptors – especially compared with other investigated birds. This excellent sense of smell may help the kiwi to distinguish a much broader range of odours, and therefore help them find safe food sources as they rummage around in the dark.
"These adaptations seem to have happened around 35 million years ago, soon after their arrival in New Zealand, probably as a consequence of their nocturnal lifestyle,” explained Diana de Luc, the study lead author. Believe it or not, this adaptation is considered to be a fairly recent one.
The team of scientists were particularly interested in New Zealand as a place of research due to our geographic isolation. It has led us to be a place unique in our abundance of endemic species of both flora and fauna, which is often why we see birders, scientists, and nature lovers ‘flock’ here from all over the world.
Tristan Cullen - Passionate Conservationist