Evolutionary Ecology

, Volume 26, Issue 6, pp 1391–1419 | Cite as

Reproductive investment in moa: a K-selected life-history strategy?

  • Jan WernerEmail author
  • Eva Maria Griebeler
Original Paper


The exaggerated K-selected life-history strategy of moa has been suggested as an important factor causing their rapid extinction. Classically, this strategy is characterized by few, large offspring and low fecundity rates. Assuming clutches with one or two eggs as derived from the fossil record, we tested if eggs of moa were larger than the average of similar-sized birds, and estimated their unknown annual breeding frequencies. Therefore, we established allometries on body mass and different reproductive traits (i.e. egg mass, clutch mass and annual clutch mass). These were derived for r-selected (r-model) and for K-selected (K-model) bird species. In agreement with our initial expectations, moa had egg to body mass relations seen in “average” extant K-selected birds. While the K-model pointed to a clutch size of one or two eggs for moa corroborating fossil data and a K-selected life-history, the r-model predicted two to three times larger sizes. Under clutch sizes between one and two eggs and an annual clutch mass as observed in other similar-sized flightless island birds (e.g. rails, ratites), the annual clutch mass allometry suggested one to three clutches per year for moa. Even when assuming less than one brood per year (K-model predicts 0.5 clutches per year); annual clutch masses were still consistent with the K-model. Further studies are needed to clarify whether or not the reproductive strategy of flightless island birds and/or of the birds underlying the K-model fits better to the moa strategy. The approach presented herein, illustrates that combining biological and paleontological data can assist in the reconstruction of species traits, which are insufficiently or not preserved in fossils, but are necessary to understand the evolution of traits.


Extinct bird Paleontology Egg mass Clutch mass Annual clutch mass Clutch size Breeding frequency Allometry Island 



We especially thank two anonymous reviewers and the members of our working group for their valuable comments on an earlier version of this manuscript. We are grateful to Jessica Mitchell and Ariana Macon for some linguistic improvements. This paper is part of the PhD thesis of JW. The project was funded by the German Research Foundation (grant GR 2625/2-1). This is contribution number 118 of the DFG Research Unit 533 “Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: The Evolution of Gigantism”.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology, Zoological InstituteUniversity of MainzMainzGermany

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