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Has the Caribbean Faced Many Extinctions?

Thousands of years ago, the forests of the Caribbean were teeming with life. More than 130 species of mammals, from sloths and giant monkeys to mammoths and super-sized rats, called the islands home. Then, about 6,000 years ago, humans showed up, and the other mammal species began to vanish. Research published in November 2017 in the journal Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics points to a range of human-related factors, including hunting, aggressive agricultural practices, and the introduction of non-native animals, such as cats and mongooses. In the end, bats were among the few mammal species to continue to thrive after humans began to call the islands their home.

Man vs. beast, a cautionary tale:

  • Mammal diversity in the Caribbean region has declined dramatically since the last ice age, with only 60 bat species and 13 native terrestrial mammal species remaining.
  • As the ice melted and the planet warmed, ecosystems changed dramatically. In North America, these environmental shifts coincided with the arrival of people.
  • The study found that two waves of human arrivals caused the most damage. Settlers from the Americas, and then from Europe, were pivotal in causing the current downward spiral of many species toward extinction.
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