Europeans may have caused extinction of large mammals in Caribbean
January 25, 2007
New evidence suggests that the arrival of Europeans in the New World corresponds with the extinction of mammal species on the Caribbean islands.
Dating remains from archaeological and palaeontological sites on Puerto Rico, a team of researchers lead by Dr. Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London, found that nesophontid ‘island-shrews’ were still present on the island approximately 1000 years ago, suggesting that at least some large West Indian mammals survived for Amerindian colonization some 2000 years earlier. These species “probably became extinct following European arrival,” say the researchers, “in protracted pre-European ‘sitzkrieg’-style events rather than ‘blitzkrieg’-style overkill.”
On his web site Turvey notes that “mammal faunas of the West Indies have experienced almost 40% of all modern-era mammalian extinctions, the greatest concentration of losses for this group anywhere in the world.” He says the largest species, like the giant ground sloths, were likely wiped out by the arrival of Amerindians, while smaller mammals likely became extinct due to habitat modification for agriculture and the introduction of exotic species like rats.
The new paper, titled “Late Holocene extinction of Puerto Rican native land mammals”, is published in the Jan 23, 2007 online edition of Biology Letters. Co-authors include J.R. Oliver, Y.M. Narganes Storde, and P. Rye.
This article uses quotes an information from Dr. Turvey’s web site and Turvey’s paper published in Biology Letters.