XVI INQUA Congress
Paper No. 17-3
Presentation Time: 1:30 PM-4:30 PM

BREATHING LIFE INTO THE EXTINCTION OF AEPYORNIS WITH EGGSHELL AMINO ACIDS AND STABLE ISOTOPES

CLARKE, Simon J.1, SCHWENNINGER, Jean-Luc2, MILLER, Gifford H.3, FOGEL, Marilyn L.4, and CHIVAS, Allan R.1, (1) School of Geosciences, Univ of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW 2522, Australia, sjc03@uow.edu.au, (2) Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art, Univ of Oxford, 6 Keble Rd, Oxford, OX1 3QJ, United Kingdom, (3) INSTAAR and Department of Geological Sciences, Univ of Colorado, PO Box 450, Boulder, CO 80309-0450, (4) Geophysical Laboratory, Carnegie Institution of Washington, 5251 Broad Branch Rd NW, Washington DC, DC 20015

The loss of Madagascarís large land animals was one of the most recent prehistoric mass extinction events to take place on our planet. The extinctions occurred following colonization of the island by people approximately 2000 years ago. Amongst the Malagasy megafauna was a huge flightless bird, Aepyornis. Aepyornis reached weights in excess of 400 kg and laid the largest eggs the world has ever seen, larger than those of any dinosaur. The research aim is to increase our understanding of the timing and causes of the extinction of the genus through the biogeochemical analysis of Aepyornis eggshells.

From heating experiments Arrhenius parameters defining the temperature sensitivity of isoleucine epimerization (measured by A/I) were determined (lnA=40.2, Ea=29.8 kcal/mol). The parameters enable epimerization chronologies from sites with differing thermal regimes to be compared. A set of nine paired eggshell A/I values and radiocarbon ages from southern Madagascar indicates that a good correlation (r2=0.76) exists between these two chronometers. These ages suggest the genus survived until at least the 7th century AD. We have begun to assess the age of eggshell accumulations from several sites (Table Mountain, Nasua, Songoritelo, Ampalora, Beraroha, Belalanda, Faux Cap) along the southwestern coast of Madagascar using A/I values.

Carbon, nitrogen and oxygen isotopes in Aepyornis eggshells are used to trace the flow of nutrients through the prehistoric environments of Madagascar. The isotopes fail to exhibit shifts that would support models explaining Aepyornis extinction in terms of climatic change. The carbon isotopes suggest a diet dominated by C3 plants, or perhaps isotopically light CAM vegetation. Values in excess of 16 per mil for nitrogen isotopes may reflect the effects of water stress on vegetation consumed or on nitrogen cycling within the birds. The minor variation (< 2 per mil) in the oxygen isotopes of Aepyornis eggshell calcite over time suggests that drinking waters were buffered from the isotopic variability produced by evaporative enrichment and meteorological effects. Thus groundwater-fed reservoirs or highland-derived fluvial systems were likely water sources for the genus, at least in the far south.

XVI INQUA Congress
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 17--Booth# 27
Extinctions and Speciation During the Quaternary (Posters)
Reno Hilton Resort and Conference Center: Pavilion
1:30 PM-4:30 PM, Friday, July 25, 2003

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, , p. 100

© Copyright The Geological Society of America (GSA), all rights reserved. Permission is hereby granted to the author(s) of this abstract to reproduce and distribute it freely, for noncommercial purposes. Permission is hereby granted to any individual scientist to download a single copy of this electronic file and reproduce up to 20 paper copies for noncommercial purposes advancing science and education, including classroom use, providing all reproductions include the complete content shown here, including the author information. All other forms of reproduction and/or transmittal are prohibited without written permission from GSA Copyright Permissions.