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Extinct Caribbean bird yields DNA after 2,500 years in watery grave


Scientists have recovered the first genetic data from an extinct bird in the Caribbean, thanks to the remarkably preserved bones of a Creighton’s caracara from a flooded sinkhole on Great Abaco Island.

Studies of ancient DNA from tropical birds have faced two formidable obstacles. Organic material quickly degrades when exposed to heat, light and oxygen. And birds’ lightweight, hollow bones break easily, accelerating the decay of the DNA within.

But the dark, oxygen-free depths of a 100-foot blue hole known as Sawmill Sink provided ideal preservation conditions for the bones of Caracara creightoni, a species of large carrion-eating falcon that disappeared soon after humans arrived in the Bahamas about 1,000 years ago. MORE

Header image: Sawmill Sink contains the fossil bones of more than 60 bird species, including Creighton’s caracara, osprey, American kestrel and likely Cooper’s hawk. Credit: Florida Museum, Kristen Grace.

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