How did the Dodo evolve?

Dodos (Raphus cucullatus) lived in the forests of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean, but how they arrived on the isolated island is unclear. In 2002, a group of scientists from the University of Oxford shed more light on the dodo's origins using DNA analysis. 

They discovered that the dodo and its close relative, the Rodrigues solitaire (Pezophaps solitaria), belong to the group that includes pigeons and doves - the Columbiformes. The closest living relative to the dodo and Rodrigues solitaire is the beautiful Nicobar pigeon (Caloenas nicobarica), found on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of India.

Through evolution, dodos adapted to life in Mauritius by increasing their size and nesting on the ground. Their beaks adapted to the food they were able to find easily, and they gradually became flightless. Many island species become flightless and reach larger sizes because they adapt to isolated habitats with few large predators and reduced competition. Unfortunately these particular adaptions left the dodos ill-prepared for the European sailors and the domestic animals they brought with them when they first arrived on Mauritius.

Caloenas nicobarica

Caloenas nicobarica. Credit: Cburnett via Wikimedia Commons 

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