Extinct Bird Comes 'Back from the Dead' After 136,000 Years

The bird seems to disappear then reappear through the process of evolution.
Donovan Alexander

Like the ultimate respawn, a bird that was previously believed to be extinct has made a stunning return from the "dead" after it evolved all over again, and it has scientists scratching their heads. Originally wiped from the face of the earth 136,000 years ago, the previously extinct chicken-like species of bird has made back to its previous home reclaiming the island that it had previously lived on. According to scientists, it is almost as if the white-throated rail has re-evolved itself back into existence.   


The Respawning White-Throated Rail

Originally, the white-throated rail colonized the Aldabra Atoll in the Indian Ocean eventually evolving to become flightless. However, what is interesting is that researchers have found fossils of before and after the rail became extinct. Researchers found that the bird re-appeared when the sea levels of the Aldabra Atoll fell again, a few thousand years later with the bird taking up real-estate again, losing its ability to fly. 

If you were to make the journey to the Aldabra Atoll today, you will find the cute rail flourishing there. So how does one come back from the dead like this? The process that is responsible for the resurgence of the flightless rail is known as the iterative evolution.

Iterative Evolution 

For the uninitiated iterative evolution is a repeated evolution of similar or parallel structures in the development of the same main line. In short, it is the repeated evolution of a species from the same ancestor at different times in history.

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The rarity of this evolutionary event and its first-time appearance in rails makes this moment extremely significant, says the study published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. Why did this happen? The region's unique environmental factors including the bird's lack of natural predators made reviving of the species possible.  

"We know of no other example in rails, or of birds in general, that demonstrates this phenomenon so evidently," said co-author David Martill, of the University of Portsmouth.   

"Only on Aldabra, which has the oldest palaeontological record of any oceanic island within the Indian Ocean region, is fossil evidence available that demonstrates the effects of changing sea levels on extinction and recolonization events."

What a way to come back. 

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