Mare aux Songes

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Mare aux Songes
Stratigraphic range: Holocene
Type Geological formation
Location
Region Africa
Country Mauritius
Mare aux Songes.jpg
Mare aux Songes encircled on a map of the Mauritian railway system in 1866

The Mare aux Songes swamp is a lagerstätte located close to the sea in south eastern Mauritius. Many subfossils of recently extinct animals have accumulated in the swamp, which was once a lake, and some of the first subfossil remains of dodos were found there.

History[edit]

In 1865, government schoolmaster at Mahébourg, George Clark, finally found an abundance of subfossil dodo bones in the swamp of Mare aux Songes in Southern Mauritius, after searching for thirty years, having been inspired by Strickland & Melville's monograph about the bird.[1] In 1866, Clark explained his procedure to The Ibis, an ornithology journal:

After many fruitless visits to the spot... I resolved by sending some men into the centre of the marsh, where the water was about three feet deep and there, by feeling in the mud with their naked feet, they met with one entire tibia, a portion of another, and a tarso-metatarsus. The Dodo bones were imbedded only in the mud at the bottom of the water in the deepest part of the marsh... Encouraged by success, I employed several hands to search in the manner described, but I met with but few specimens of dodo bones till I thought of cutting away a mass of floating herbage nearly two feet in thickness, which covered the deepest part of the marsh. In the mud under this, I was rewarded by finding bones of many dodos.[2]
Brown, mounted dodo skeleton
The dodo skeleton Richard Owen put together from bones found in the Mare aux Songes

Remains of over 300 dodos were found in the swamp, but only very few skull and wing bones among them, which may be explained by the upper bodies having been washed away or scavenged while the lower body was trapped, which is similar to the way many moa remains have been found in New Zealand marshes.[3] In 1889, Théodor Sauzier was commissioned to find more dodo remains in the Mare aux Songes. He was successful, and also found remains of other extinct species.[4] 26 museums worldwide have significant holdings of dodo material, almost all found in the Mare aux Songes.[5]

In October 2005, after a hundred years of neglect, a part of the Mare aux Songes swamp was excavated by an international team of researchers. To prevent Malaria, the British had covered the swamp in hard core during their rule over Mauritius, which had to be removed. Many remains were found, including bones of dodos in various stages of maturity, and several bones obviously from the skeleton of one individual dodo, which have been preserved in their natural position.[6] These findings were made public in December 2005 in the Naturalis museum in Leiden. 63% of the fossils found in the swamp belonged to turtles of the extinct Cylindraspis genus, and 7.1% belonged to dodos, which had been deposited within several centuries, 4000 years ago.[7] Subsequent excavations suggested that dodos, along with other animals, became mired in the Mare aux Songes while trying to reach water during a long period of severe drought about 4,200 years ago.[8]

Paleofauna[edit]

The following animals have been identified from fossils in the Mare aux Songes.[7][3]

Birds[edit]

Birds reported from the Mare aux Songes
Species Authority Common name Family Material IUCN status Images

Aphanapteryx bonasia

Red rail

Rallidae

Mandibles, tibiotarsi

Extinct

Red rail fossils
Broad-billed parrot fossils
Mauritius owl fossils

Fulica newtoni

Mascarene coot

Rallidae

Hip and leg bones

Extinct

Circus maillardi

Réunion harrier

Accipitridae

Tarsometatarsi, tibiae and metacarpals

Locally extinct

Lophopsittacus mauritianus

  • Owen, 1866

Broad-billed parrot

Psittaculidae

Skulls, mandibles, sternum, furcula, coracoids, humeri, ulnae, femora, tibiotarsi, carpometacarpus[9]

Extinct

Psittacula bensoni

  • Holyoak, 1973

Mascarene grey parakeet

Psittaculidae

Palatines[7]

Extinct

Raphus cucullatus

Dodo

Columbidae

All skeletal elements known from the swamp

Extinct

Alectroenas nitidissima

Mauritius blue pigeon

Columbidae

Tarsometatarsus[10]

Extinct

Nesoenas mayeri

Pink pigeon

Columbidae

Tarsometatarsus[7]

Endangered

Mascarenotus sauzieri

Mauritius owl

Strigidae

Humerus, tibia, tarsus, unguals

Extinct

Phoenicopterus roseus

Greater flamingo

Phoenicopteridae

Tarsometatarsus

Locally extinct

Reptiles[edit]

Reptiles reported from the Mare aux Songes
Species Authority Common name Family Material IUCN status Images

Cylindraspis inepta

Saddle-backed Mauritius giant tortoise

Testudinidae

Skulls, carapaces

Extinct

Skull of Cylindraspis sp. (8), Cylindraspis inepta (7), Cylindraspis triserrata (8)
Mauritian giant skink fossils

Cylindraspis triserrata

Domed Mauritius giant tortoise

Testudinidae

Skulls, carapaces

Extinct

Phelsuma cf guimbeaui

Orange-spotted day gecko

Geckoniidae

Humerus

N/A

Leiolopisma mauritiana

Mauritian giant skink

Scincidae

Mandibles, vertebrae

Extinct

Leiolopisma telfairii

Round Island skink

Scincidae

Humerus

Vulnerable

Typhlops cariei

Hoffstetter's worm snake

Typhlopidae

Seven trunk vertebrae

Extinct

Mammals[edit]

Mammals reported from the Mare aux Songes
Species Authority Common name Family Material IUCN status Images

Pteropus niger

Mauritian flying fox

Megachiroptera

Mandible

Endangered

Small Mauritian flying fox specimen
Natal free-tailed bat type illustration

Pteropus subniger

Small Mauritian flying fox

Megachiroptera

Mandible

Extinct

Mormopterus acetabulosus

  • Hermann, 1804

Natal free-tailed bat

Microchiroptera

Phalanges

Vulnerable

Taphozous mauritianus

  • Geoffroy, 1818

Mauritian tomb bat

Microchiroptera

Phalanges

Least concern

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hume, Julian Pender (2006). "The History of the Dodo Raphus cucullatus and the Penguin of Mauritius" (PDF). Historical Biology 18 (2): 69–93. doi:10.1080/08912960600639400. ISSN 0891-2963.  edit
  2. ^ Clark, G. (April 1866). "Account of the late Discovery of Dodos' Remains in the Island of Mauritius". Ibis 8 (2): 141–146. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.1866.tb06082.x.  edit
  3. ^ a b Hume, Julian Pender (2005). "Contrasting taphofacies in ocean island settings: the fossil record of Mascarene vertebrates". Proceedings of the International Symposium "Insular Vertebrate Evolution: the Palaeontological Approach". Monografies de la Societat d'Història Natural de les Balears 12: 129–144. 
  4. ^ Newton, E.; Gadow, H. (1893). "IX. On additional bones of the Dodo and other extinct birds of Mauritius obtained by Mr. Theodore Sauzier". The Transactions of the Zoological Society of London 13 (7): 281–302. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1893.tb00001.x.  edit
  5. ^ Fuller, Errol (2002). Dodo – From Extinction To Icon. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-00-714572-0. 
  6. ^ Cheke, Anthony S.; Hume, Julian Pender (2008). Lost Land of the Dodo: an Ecological History of Mauritius, Réunion & Rodrigues. T. & A. D. Poyser. p. [page needed]. ISBN 978-0-7136-6544-4. 
  7. ^ a b c d Rijsdijk, K. F.; Hume, J. P.; Bunnik, F.; Florens, F. B. V.; Baider, C.; Shapiro, B.; van der Plicht, H.; Janoo, A. et al. (January 2009). "Mid-Holocene vertebrate bone Concentration-Lagerstätte on oceanic island Mauritius provides a window into the ecosystem of the dodo (Raphus cucullatus)". Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (1–2): 14–24. Bibcode:2009QSRv...28...14R. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2008.09.018. (subscription required (help)).  edit
  8. ^ Rijsdijk, K. F.; Zinke, J.; de Louw, P. G. B.; Hume, J. P.; Van Der Plicht, H.; Hooghiemstra, H.; Meijer, H. J. M.; Vonhof, H. B. et al. (2011). "Mid-Holocene (4200 kyr BP) mass mortalities in Mauritius (Mascarenes): Insular vertebrates resilient to climatic extremes but vulnerable to human impact". The Holocene 21 (8): 1179–1194. doi:10.1177/0959683611405236. (subscription required (help)).  edit
  9. ^ Hume, J. P. (2007). "Reappraisal of the parrots (Aves: Psittacidae) from the Mascarene Islands, with comments on their ecology, morphology, and affinities" (PDF). Zootaxa 1513: 4–41. 
  10. ^ Hume, Julian Pender (2011). "Systematics, morphology, and ecology of pigeons and doves (Aves: Columbidae) of the Mascarene Islands, with three new species". Zootaxa 3124: 28–39. ISBN 978-1-86977-825-5. 

Coordinates: 20°26′49″S 57°41′46″E / 20.447°S 57.696°E / -20.447; 57.696