Assessing the role of humans in Greater Antillean land vertebrate extinctions: New insights from Cuba

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Sep 30, 2020
Johanset Orihuela, Lázaro W. Viñola, Osvaldo Jiménez Vázquez, Alexis M. Mychajliw, Odlanyer Hernández de Lara, Logel Lorenzo, and J. Angel Soto-Centeno



The Caribbean archipelago is a hotspot of biodiversity characterized by a high rate of extinction. Recent studies have examined these losses, but the causes of the Antillean Late Quaternary vertebrate extinctions, and especially the role of humans, are still unclear. Previous results provide support for climate-related and human-induced extinctions, but often downplaying other complex bio-ecological factors that are difficult to model or to detect from the fossil and archaeological record. Here, we discuss Caribbean vertebrate extinctions and the potential role of humans derived from new and existing fossil and archaeological data from Cuba. Our results indicate that losses of Cuba’s native fauna occurred in waves: one during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene, a second during the middle Holocene, and a third one during the last 2 ka, combining the arrival of agroceramists and later of Europeans. The coexistence of now-extinct species with multiple cultural groups in Cuba for over 4 ka implies that Cuban indigenous non-ceramic cultures exerted far fewer extinction pressures to native fauna than the later agroceramists and Europeans that followed. This suggests a determinant value to increased technological sophistication and demographics as plausible effective extinction drivers. Beyond looking at dates of first human arrival alone, future studies should also consider cultural diversity with attention to different bio-ecological factors that influence these biodiversity changes.

Read the article in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.


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