GAINESVILLE, Fla. A new University of Florida study of nearly 5,000 Haiti bird fossils shows contrary to a commonly held theory, human arrival 6,000 years ago didn't cause the island's birds to die simultaneously.
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 Haiti 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 arriva
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University of Florida