Publications by authors named "David A Burney"

10 Publications

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Using ancient DNA to study the origins and dispersal of ancestral Polynesian chickens across the Pacific.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2014 Apr 17;111(13):4826-31. Epub 2014 Mar 17.

Australian Centre for Ancient DNA, School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.

The human colonization of Remote Oceania remains one of the great feats of exploration in history, proceeding east from Asia across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Human commensal and domesticated species were widely transported as part of this diaspora, possibly as far as South America. We sequenced mitochondrial control region DNA from 122 modern and 22 ancient chicken specimens from Polynesia and Island Southeast Asia and used these together with Bayesian modeling methods to examine the human dispersal of chickens across this area. We show that specific techniques are essential to remove contaminating modern DNA from experiments, which appear to have impacted previous studies of Pacific chickens. In contrast to previous reports, we find that all ancient specimens and a high proportion of the modern chickens possess a group of unique, closely related haplotypes found only in the Pacific. This group of haplotypes appears to represent the authentic founding mitochondrial DNA chicken lineages transported across the Pacific, and allows the early dispersal of chickens across Micronesia and Polynesia to be modeled. Importantly, chickens carrying this genetic signature persist on several Pacific islands at high frequencies, suggesting that the original Polynesian chicken lineages may still survive. No early South American chicken samples have been detected with the diagnostic Polynesian mtDNA haplotypes, arguing against reports that chickens provide evidence of Polynesian contact with pre-European South America. Two modern specimens from the Philippines carry haplotypes similar to the ancient Pacific samples, providing clues about a potential homeland for the Polynesian chicken.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1320412111DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977275PMC
April 2014

Evidence disputing deforestation as the cause for the collapse of the ancient Maya polity of Copan, Honduras.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2010 Jan 14;107(3):1017-22. Epub 2009 Dec 14.

Department of Anthropology, Lehman College, The City University of New York, Bronx, NY 10468, USA.

Archaeologists have proposed diverse hypotheses to explain the collapse of the southern Maya lowland cities between the 8th and 10th centuries A.D. Although it generally is believed that no single factor was responsible, a commonly accepted cause is environmental degradation as a product of large-scale deforestation. To date, the most compelling scientific evidence used to support this hypothesis comes from the archaeological site of Copan, Honduras, where the analysis of a sediment core suggested a dramatic increase in forest clearance in the Late Classic period (A.D. 600-900). By contrast, in the work presented here, the authors' analysis of a longer sediment core demonstrates that forest cover increased from A.D. 400 to A.D. 900, with arboreal pollen accounting for 59.8-71.0% of the pollen assemblage by approximately A.D. 780-980. The highest levels of deforestation are found about 900 B.C. when, at its peak, herb pollen made up 89.8% of the assemblage. A second, although less pronounced, period of elevated deforestation peaked at approximately A.D. 400 when herb pollen reached 65.3% of the assemblage. The first deforestation event likely coincided with the widespread adoption of agriculture, a pattern found elsewhere in Mesoamerica. The second period of forest clearance probably was associated with the incursion of Maya speakers into the Copan Valley and their subsequent construction of the earliest levels of the Copan Acropolis. These results refute the former hypothesis that the ancient Maya responded to their increasingly large urban population by exhausting, rather than conserving, natural resources.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0904760107DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824285PMC
January 2010

New hand bones of Hadropithecus stenognathus: implications for the paleobiology of the Archaeolemuridae.

J Hum Evol 2008 Mar;54(3):405-13

Division of Anatomy, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6G 2H7.

A partial, associated skeleton of Hadropithecus stenognathus (AHA-I) was discovered in 2003 at Andrahomana Cave in southeastern Madagascar. Among the postcranial elements found were the first hand bones (right scaphoid, right hamate, left first metacarpal, and right and left fifth metacarpals) attributed to this rare subfossil lemur. These hand bones were compared to those of extant strepsirrhines and catarrhines in order to infer the positional adaptations of Hadropithecus, and they were compared to those of Archaeolemur in order to assess variation in hand morphology among archaeolemurids. The scaphoid tubercle does not project palmarly as in suspensory and climbing taxa, and the hamate has no hook at all (just a small tubercle), which also points to a poorly developed carpal tunnel. There is a distinctive, radioulnarly directed "spiral" facet for articulation with the triquetrum that is most similar in orientation to that of more terrestrial primates (i.e., Lemur catta, Papio, and Gorilla). The first metacarpal is very reduced and represents only 48% of the length of metacarpal V, as in Archaeolemur, which suggests that pollical grasping of arboreal supports was not important. Compared to Archaeolemur, the shaft of metacarpal V is gracile, and the head has no dorsal ridge and lacks characteristics functionally associated with digitigrade, extended metacarpophalangeal joint postures. Proximally, the articular facet for the hamate is oriented more dorsally. Thus, the carpometacarpal joint V appears to have a distinctive hyperextended set, which has no analog among living or extinct primates. The carpals of Hadropithecus are diagnostic of a pronograde, arboreal and terrestrial (although not digitigrade) locomotor repertoire that typifies Lemur catta and some Old World monkeys. No clinging, suspensory, or climbing specializations that characterize indriids or lorises can be found in the hand of this subfossil lemur. The hand of Hadropithecus likely had similar ranges of movement at the radiocarpal and midcarpal joints as of those of pronograde primates, such as lemurids, for which the hand is held in a more extended, pronated, and neutral (i.e., showing less ulnar deviation) position during locomotion in comparison to that of vertical clingers or slow climbers. Although highly autapomorphic, the hand of Hadropithecus resembles that of its sister taxon, Archaeolemur, in having a very reduced pollex and an articular facet on the scaphoid for a sizeable prepollex. These unusual hand features reinforce the monophyly of the Archaeolemuridae.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2007.09.010DOI Listing
March 2008

Pleistocene rewilding: an optimistic agenda for twenty-first century conservation.

Am Nat 2006 Nov 25;168(5):660-81. Epub 2006 Sep 25.

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York 14853, USA. cjd34cornell.edu

Large vertebrates are strong interactors in food webs, yet they were lost from most ecosystems after the dispersal of modern humans from Africa and Eurasia. We call for restoration of missing ecological functions and evolutionary potential of lost North American megafauna using extant conspecifics and related taxa. We refer to this restoration as Pleistocene rewilding; it is conceived as carefully managed ecosystem manipulations whereby costs and benefits are objectively addressed on a case-by-case and locality-by-locality basis. Pleistocene rewilding would deliberately promote large, long-lived species over pest and weed assemblages, facilitate the persistence and ecological effectiveness of megafauna on a global scale, and broaden the underlying premise of conservation from managing extinction to encompass restoring ecological and evolutionary processes. Pleistocene rewilding can begin immediately with species such as Bolson tortoises and feral horses and continue through the coming decades with elephants and Holarctic lions. Our exemplar taxa would contribute biological, economic, and cultural benefits to North America. Owners of large tracts of private land in the central and western United States could be the first to implement this restoration. Risks of Pleistocene rewilding include the possibility of altered disease ecology and associated human health implications, as well as unexpected ecological and sociopolitical consequences of reintroductions. Establishment of programs to monitor suites of species interactions and their consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem health will be a significant challenge. Secure fencing would be a major economic cost, and social challenges will include acceptance of predation as an overriding natural process and the incorporation of pre-Columbian ecological frameworks into conservation strategies.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/508027DOI Listing
November 2006

Fifty millennia of catastrophic extinctions after human contact.

Trends Ecol Evol 2005 Jul;20(7):395-401

National Tropical Botanical Garden, 3530 Papalina Road, Kalaheo, HI 96741, USA.

Debate continues to rage between enthusiasts for climate change versus humans as a cause of the catastrophic faunal extinctions that have occurred in the wake of human arrival in previously uninhabited regions of the world. A global pattern of human arrival to such landmasses, followed by faunal collapse and other ecological changes, appears without known exception. This strongly suggests to some investigators that a more interesting extinction debate lies within the realm of potential human-caused explanations and how climate might exacerbate human impacts. New observations emerging from refined dating techniques, paleoecology and modeling suggest that the megafaunal collapses of the Americas and Australia, as well as most prehistoric island biotic losses, trace to a variety of human impacts, including rapid overharvesting, biological invasions, habitat transformation and disease.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2005.04.022DOI Listing
July 2005

Evidence of early butchery of giant lemurs in Madagascar.

J Hum Evol 2005 Dec 12;49(6):722-42. Epub 2005 Oct 12.

Department of Anthropology, 240 Hicks Way, University of Massachusetts-Amherst, MA 01003-9278, USA.

We report here definitive evidence of butchery, most probably associated with hunting, of giant extinct lemurs by early human settlers in Madagascar. Specimens of Palaeopropithecus ingens and Pachylemur insignis from two sites in southwestern Madagascar, Taolambiby and Tsirave, show classic signs of butchering. We compared these to the bones (also from Taolambiby) of butchered Propithecus verreauxi, a lemur still living in the region. The characteristics of the tool-induced extinct-lemur bone alterations (sharp cuts and chop marks near joints, oblique cuts along the shafts, spiral fractures, and percussion striae) suggest skinning, disarticulation, and filleting. Conclusive evidence of megafaunal modification by humans in Madagascar was limited previously to a few hippo and elephant bird bones and one extinct aye-aye tooth. New evidence comes not from archaeological sites, but from specimens collected in the early 1900s, without stratigraphic records, at "subfossil" sites (i.e., sites renowned for their late Pleistocene or Holocene fossils, often lacking human artifacts). Whereas these are hardly the most ideal samples for analysis of this kind, careful scrutiny of the characteristics of the cut marks has allowed us to document butchery beyond any reasonable doubt. One bone with definitive cut marks has been dated to the very earliest part of the human period in Madagascar. Continued, careful research on the bones in subfossil collections is warranted.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2005.08.004DOI Listing
December 2005

A chronology for late prehistoric Madagascar.

J Hum Evol 2004 Jul-Aug;47(1-2):25-63

Department of Biological Sciences, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA.

A database has been assembled with 278 age determinations for Madagascar. Materials 14C dated include pretreated sediments and plant macrofossils from cores and excavations throughout the island, and bones, teeth, or eggshells of most of the extinct megafaunal taxa, including the giant lemurs, hippopotami, and ratites. Additional measurements come from uranium-series dates on speleothems and thermoluminescence dating of pottery. Changes documented include late Pleistocene climatic events and, in the late Holocene, the apparently human-caused transformation of the environment. Multiple lines of evidence point to the earliest human presence at ca. 2300 14C yr BP (350 cal yr BC). A decline in megafauna, inferred from a drastic decrease in spores of the coprophilous fungus Sporormiella spp. in sediments at 1720+/-40 14C yr BP (230-410 cal yr AD), is followed by large increases in charcoal particles in sediment cores, beginning in the SW part of the island, and spreading to other coasts and the interior over the next millennium. The record of human occupation is initially sparse, but shows large human populations throughout the island by the beginning of the Second Millennium AD. Dating of the "subfossil" megafauna, including pygmy hippos, elephant birds, giant tortoises, and large lemurs, demonstrates that most if not all the extinct taxa were still present on the island when humans arrived. Many taxa overlapped chronologically with humans for a millennium or more. The extinct lemurs Hadropithecus stenognathus, Pachylemur insignis, Mesopropithecus pithecoides, and Daubentonia robusta, and the elephant birds Aepyornis spp. and Mullerornis spp., were still present near the end of the First Millennium AD. Palaeopropithecus ingens, Megaladapis edwardsi, and Archaeolemur sp. (cf. edwardsi) may have survived until the middle of the Second Millennium A.D. One specimen of Hippopotamus of unknown provenance dates to the period of European colonization.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhevol.2004.05.005DOI Listing
November 2004

Sporormiella and the late Holocene extinctions in Madagascar.

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2003 Sep 5;100(19):10800-5. Epub 2003 Sep 5.

Department of Biological Sciences, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA.

Fossil spores of the dung fungus Sporormiella spp. in sediment cores from throughout Madagascar provide new information concerning megafaunal extinction and the introduction of livestock. Sporormiella percentages are very high in prehuman southwest Madagascar, but at the site with best stratigraphic resolution the spore declines sharply by approximately 1,720 yr B.P. (radiocarbon years ago). Within a few centuries there is a concomitant rise in microscopic charcoal that probably represents human transformation of the local environment. Reduced megaherbivore biomass in wooded savannas may have resulted in increased plant biomass and more severe fires. Some now-extinct taxa persisted locally for a millennium or more after the inferred megafaunal decline. Sites in closed humid forests of northwest Madagascar and a montane ericoid formation of the central highlands show only low to moderate Sporormiella percentages before humans. A subsequent rise in spore concentrations, thought to be evidence for livestock proliferation, occurs earliest at Amparihibe in the northwest at approximately 1,130 yr B.P.
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http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1534700100DOI Listing
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC196883PMC
September 2003

Sifaka predation by a large boa.

Authors:
David A Burney

Folia Primatol (Basel) 2002 Mar-Jun;73(2-3):144-5

Department of Biological Sciences, Fordham University, Bronx, NY 10458, USA.

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http://dx.doi.org/10.1159/000064793DOI Listing
January 2003
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