Prehistoric fisheries in the Caribbean

  • Wing S
  • Wing E
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We studied faunal remains from archaeological sites on five Caribbean islands, each with an early (1850-1280 years B.P.) and late (1415-560BP) occupation. On each of these islands (Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Martin, Saba and Nevis) the mean size of reef fishes in the faunal remains declined from the early to the late occupation. The large samples from sites on St. Thomas and Nevis allowed examination of the size distribution of individual taxa. Samples of obligate reef fishes (Scaridae, Acanthuridae, Lutjanidae, and Serranidae) showed large reductions in size between the early and late occupations. Samples of facultative reef fishes (Carangidae and Clupeidae) showed little change in size frequency distribution. The percentage of estimated reef fish biomass in the total aquatic faunal record sharply declines in the samples from four of the islands, while on Nevis there was a slight increase. The mean trophic level of reef fishes declined from the early to the late occupation on each island. Together these patterns suggest that populations of reef fishes adjacent to occupation sites on these islands were heavily exploited in prehistoric times. Such exploitation resulted in shifts in size structure and species composition among the reef fish fauna. On some islands the decline in reef fish resources corresponded with a shift towards greater exploitation of pelagic species.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Caribbean
  • Prehistoric fisheries
  • Species shift
  • Trophic level analysis

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  • S. R. Wing

  • E. Wing

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