JULY 17, 2019
Senckenberg ornithologist Gerald Mayr, in conjunction with his colleague Alan Tennyson of the Te Papa Museum in New Zealand, describe a previously unknown, extinct albatross species from the Pliocene. The bird, which lived about 3 million years ago, only reached approximately 90 percent of the size of the smallest modern albatrosses. However, the fossil's most remarkable trait is the unusually narrow beak, which suggests that the new species mainly fed on fish. The diet of modern albatrosses, by contrast, is dominated by squid. The fossil discovery thus indicates a higher diversity in the feeding ecology of extinct albatrosses and raises the question why the fish-eating forms ultimately went extinct. The study is published today in the scientific journal Ibis.
Extant albatrosses are known for their considerable size: the largest species reach a wingspan of more than 3 meters. However, while living albatrosses are among the most iconic pelagic birds, little is known about the evolutionary history of these characteristic flyers, and fossils are extremely rare.