Researcher Matiu Andrews-Cookson introduces the koreke de-extinction project.
Matiu project manages construction projects by day but is also a trained molecular biologist. He's passionate about advancing the science of de-extinction and believes the New Zealand Quail is a pragmatic target species.
Koreke occupied a niche in NZ’s native ecosystem as a dry land seed and insect eater which is filled exclusively by exotic species today. You could say that koreke was New Zealand’s answer to the quail question.
Although it is not an iconic species, people grew to value koreke, so much so, that a number of settlers in the mid nineteenth century made efforts to halt their decline. Koreke were so important as a food and cultural resource to Maori, that early land court cases against the Crown mentioned the presence of koreke in an area of land as a delineation of ownership (Buller, 1888).
Koreke is an obvious human-induced extinction. At the time of the arrival of European setters in New Zealand, koreke was reportedly very common. Its sudden decline coincided with massive habitat destruction, excessive sport hunting and the introduction of European predators.
Koreke were common and popular among the settlers for sport. As a result, there is very good historical documentation of behavior, habitat, breeding and diet (Buller, 1888)(Worthy, 2002).
Suitable habitat is still in existence including on predator-free islands should a breeding population be established.
The Australian stubble quail (Coturnix pectoralis) is a very close relative of koreke, is common in its natural range, easily bred, a similar size and occupies a similar ecological niche (McGowan, 2013). Stubble quail parents would likely be effective surrogates for koreke chicks.
Another close relative, Japanese quail (Coturnix japonica), is one of the most studied species of birds having been used as a model species for most of the twentieth century. It was one of the first birds to have its full genome sequenced. Extensive and ongoing studies in Japanese quail covering molecular, cell, genetic and developmental biology provide a strong basis for any future work.
Stubble and Japanese quail are both fast breeders. Historical information suggests that koreke may have been similar. This way, unlike many other New Zealand species, koreke would be likely to rapidly recover provided it was not subjected to predation.
As a recent extinction and one with a number of preserved museum specimens, genetic information is likely to be less degraded than in older extinctions. De-extinction of koreke will pave the way for more challenging de-extinction and genetic rescue projects. Many of the lessons learned will be applicable to all such projects including those in mammals.
Buller, W, (1888) History of the Birds of New Zealand
Worthy, T.H. (2002) The lost world of the moa: prehistoric life in New Zealand Indiana University Press.
Seabrook-Davison M, Huynen L, Lambert DM, Brunton DH (2009) Ancient DNA Resolves Identity and Phylogeny of New Zealand's Extinct and Living Quail (Coturnix sp.). PLoS ONE 4(7): e6400. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0006400
McGowan, P.J.K. & Kirwan, G.M. (2013). Stubble Quail (Coturnix pectoralis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2013). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive.