Thursday, March 21, 2013.
Although many birds perished or became displaced during a mass extinction event following the first arrival of humans to the
Caribbean islands, fossil evidence shows some species
were more resilient than others. The research provides range and dispersal
patterns from A.D. 600 to 1600 that may be used to create conservation plans
for tropical mountainous regions, some of the most threatened habitats
worldwide. Understanding what caused recent extinctions – whether direct
habitat loss or introduction of invasive species — helps researchers predict
future ecological impacts. The study was published online in The Holocene March
12 and is scheduled to appear in the journal’s print edition in July.
“People arrive about 6,000 years ago and within a millennium or two, you lose the big, spectacular critters — the ground sloths, the monkeys, the biggest rodents and some of the big extinct birds, like giant owls and eagles,” said lead author David Steadman, ornithology curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History on the UF campus. “We have some bird species from our fossil site that, from a modern standpoint, are just as extinct as the others, but in fact, they almost were able to survive longer. That helps give us a gauge on what the future might bring.”
Researchers used comparisons with modern bones to identify 23 species from the 4,857 bird fossils excavated from Trouing Jean Paul, a cave in southeast
at an elevation of about 6,000 feet. The most common bird species include the
Zenaida Dove, the Black Swift, the Least Pauraque, the Hispaniolan woodpecker
and a new, undescribed extinct woodcock in the genus Scolopax. Researchers
believe the woodcock became extinct between A.D. 1350 and 1800, surviving the
first arrival of the Amerindians 6,000 years ago, but dying off following the
arrival of Europeans and African peoples in 1492, Steadman said. Haiti
“When you take a look at what could’ve caused this, it really does just keep pointing to humans,” Steadman said. “I just think it’s habitat loss from people and introduction of non-native, invasive plants and animals. It’s the same thing we’re dealing with in
now — who knows what the pythons are going to wipe out in the Everglades.”
Researchers radiocarbon-dated six individual bones from the extinct woodcock to determine the site’s age. Because the locality also includes fossils of frogs, lizards, snakes, bats and rodents, in addition to the Common Barn Owl and Ashy-faced Owl, it was likely a roost where owls deposited boney pellets of their prey, scientists said.