Perhaps the most famous extinct animal of all, the dodo is often held as the definitive example of careless ecosystem destruction. But why this bird of all animals?
Living only on the island of Mauritius, the dodo was large and flightless. It grew up to 1 metre tall, and weighed about as much as a dog. It evolved from pigeons that flew from mainland Africa.
Despite having winged ancestors, the dodo was shaped into a different form by its new environment. Mauritius had a large amount of fruit available, and few natural predators. This created little incentive to be able to fly, and a great incentive to eat as much as possible. These selective pressures led to the unusual bird.
Because of its appearance and popular depictions, a lot of people believe that the dodo was a slow moving and defenceless creature. We now understand that it could run very quickly when needed. Its large beak made for a strong defensive weapon, according to sailor accounts. Nevertheless, these adaptations were not enough against the new arrival of humans.
The dodo's habitat is believed to have been the woods in the drier coastal areas of the island.
It is generally understood that the dodo was hunted to extinction. While this was a factor, we now believe that there were bigger factors at play.
The arriving people chopped the forests for wood. This scaled back the dodo's already limited habitat to an even smaller area, and cut back food sources.
The people arriving at Mauritius brought with them a variety of animals. Pigs and rats made more effective foragers of fruit. Cats were able to easily hunt the small numbers of dodo chicks. The dodo had experienced nothing like these creatures, and was unable to compete.
The dodo was last sighted in the late 1600s.