by Becky Oskin, Senior Writer | March 03, 2015 06:20pm ET
Bones left behind by a penguin that was eaten to extinction reveal that a remarkably fast turnover in species occurred after Polynesian seafarers wiped out New Zealand's weird wildlife, a new study reports.
Archaeological evidence has already confirmed the first humans to arrive in New Zealand treated the islands like a giant buffet. Seals and sea lions were on the menu, but the main course was giant birds. With no land mammals present in the area before humans arrived, birds ruled the islands, with a huge predatory eagle at the top of the food chain.
The first Pacific Islanders arrived in the late 13th century, and within 200 years, about 40 percent of the islands' bird species had vanished, studies show. Rats traveling with the settlers drove the extinction of smaller bird species, while human hunters vanquished the megafauna, including the nine species of large, flightless moa.