European settlers led to the mass extinction of reptiles on the islands of Guadeloupe: study

By carbon dating the remains and surrounding sediment, they discovered that mass extinction has only occurred in the past 500 years.

The arrival of European settlers led to a mass extinction of 50 to 70% of the populations of snakes and lizards of the islands of Guadeloupe, according to a large fossil study published Wednesday.

The article, which appeared in the newspaper Scientists progress, highlights the human impacts on animals which are often considered less “charismatic” and therefore overlooked in scientific studies, its authors wrote.

Corentin Bochaton of the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History and the National Center for Scientific Research said he and his colleagues studied 43,000 reptile bone remains from six islands in the Caribbean archipelago .

“What we have discovered is that we have massive biodiversity in the past, with several species that we did not know existed in the past, as well as several species that had never been described before,” said the main author Bochaton. AFP.

The team analyzed the remains of 16 taxa or groups of animals at 31 sites in Guadeloupe, which is part of France.

These have been classified into four periods: the Upper Pleistocene (32,000 to 11,650 years ago), the Holocene before the arrival of humans (from 11,650 years ago), the period of indigenous habitation and the modern period.

By carbon dating the remains and surrounding sediments, they were able to piece together the region’s evolutionary history and found that mass extinction had only occurred in the past 500 years.

The islands may have been first inhabited by humans 5,000 years ago. Columbus arrived in Guadeloupe in 1493, while French colonization began in 1635 and resulted in the disappearance of the indigenous peoples of Guadeloupe within 20 years.

“We didn’t see any extinction during Native American times,” Bochaton said.

Fossil records have also shown that reptile species were able to survive the climate transition at the end of the last Ice Age, when this region became warmer and wetter.

As for what led to the eradication of species such as the curly-tailed pug and Marie-Galante’s boa, the authors believe that cats, mongooses, raccoons and even rats from settlers are in large responsible party.

Smaller reptiles fared better than larger ones, which may indicate the preferences of invading predators.

Their data also revealed that tree species were less affected – which Bochaton said could be due to the role of agriculture in destroying the habitats of soil dwellers.

Bochaton said the work underscored the importance of using fossil data to determine the impact humans have on a region’s biodiversity.

In the case of Guadeloupe, the transformation was so rapid and so violent that it occurred before contemporary naturalists had time to document the fauna.

The research also comes at a time when it is increasingly recognized that reptiles – long victims of “taxonomic chauvinism” in science – have an important role to play in ecosystems, from seed dispersal and pollination to. important ecosystem engineers.

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