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Is it true that deer act like moa in our forests, filling the ecological niche that moa left empty? Nope, says a new study by Landcare Research–Manaaki Whenua palaeobiologists Janet Wilmshurst and Jamie Wood. They compared prehistoric moa poo with modern-day deer poo, both from Daley’s Flat in the Dart River valley. Using plant pollen preserved in the faeces, they reconstructed the diets of both species, and found a wider variety of pollen in the moa poo. This points to a more diverse forest having existed at the time. Some of the plants found in moa poo are now restricted to areas deer can’t reach. (The lower half of the picture above is a boulder-top inaccessible to deer.) “It is the final nail in the coffin for any idea that deer fill the same job vacancy in the ecosystem as moa,” says Nic Rawlence, director of the University of Otago’s palaeogenetics laboratory. “Ever wondered why our native forests are relatively open under the canopy? Now you know why.”

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