Late Holocene extinction of Puerto Rican native land mammals

  • Turvey S
  • Oliver J
  • Narganes Storde Y
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West Indian land mammals have suffered the most severe extinctions of any Holocene mammal faunas. However, 'last-occurrence' dates based on radiometric or robust stratigraphic data remain unavailable for most West Indian species, making it impossible to identify factors responsible for these extinctions. Here, we present new radiometric dates from archaeological and palaeontological sites on Puerto Rico, the only Greater Antillean island to have lost all native land mammals. Although it has been suggested that these species died out earlier than other West Indian mammals, we demonstrate that Puerto Rican mammal last-occurrence dates are in close agreement with those from other Antillean islands, as several species in fact persisted for millennia following Amerindian arrival. Echimyid rodents and nesophontid 'island-shrews' were still present on Puerto Rico approximately 1000 years BP, and probably became extinct following European arrival. The large (13kg) heptaxodontid rodent Elasmodontomys obliquus also appears to have survived for over 2000 years after Amerindian colonization, suggesting that at least some large West Indian mammals became extinct in protracted pre-European 'sitzkrieg'-style events rather than 'blitzkrieg'-style overkill.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Elasmodontomys
  • Heteropsomys
  • Nesophontes
  • Quaternary extinctions
  • Radiocarbon dating
  • West Indies

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  • S. T. Turvey

  • J. R. Oliver

  • Y. M. Narganes Storde

  • P. Rye

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