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7,000 years of turnover: historical contingency and human niche construction shape the Caribbean’s Anthropocene biota

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Kemp, Melissa; Mychajliw, Alexis; Wadman, Jenna; Goldberg, Amy (2020). 7,000 years of turnover: historical contingency and human niche construction shape the Caribbean’s Anthropocene biota [Dataset]. Dryad.


The human-mediated movement of species across biogeographic boundaries—whether intentional or accidental—is dramatically reshaping the modern world. Conservation biologists are grappling with the present-day effects of these introductions, but humans have in fact been reshaping ecosystems and translocating species for millennia. Acknowledging the effects of human-mediated species introductions through time is important for understanding present-day biodiversity loss, ecosystem functioning, and management needs. Here, we present the first database of terrestrial vertebrate species introductions spanning the entire anthropogenic history of a system. This ~7,000 year Caribbean dataset allows us to assess the roles of historical contingency and priority effects in shaping present-day conservation outcomes. We analyzed the spatial and temporal dynamics of species introductions in the context of cultural practices and human population histories spanning Indigenous, colonial, and modern human societies. We highlight how serial human colonization contributed to habitat modifications and species extinctions that then shaped subsequent species introductions by other human groups, altering ecosystem processes dramatically. We quantify how the taxonomic and biogeographical diversity of species introductions increases over time, reflecting diversifying reasons for species introductions. Importantly, we use the record to highlight gaps in the archaeological record, ongoing management challenges, and research opportunities in today’s Caribbean biota.


We compiled a database of terrestrial vertebrate species that were introduced to the Caribbean using existing paleontological, archaeological, and ecological literature. The databse records the species name, place of origin, and the location of the introduced populations (both the specific island and its place within the Bahamas, Greater Antilles, or Lesser Antilles). Due to ambiguity associated with the exact locality of origin, we used broad biogeographic realms (e.g., Neotropics). Where possible, we included the introduction date, number of times a species was introduced to a particular locality, reason for introduction, and whether an introduction was successful. We discuss three distinct periods that loosely correspond to different societies and economic structures: Indigenous societies, colonial societies, and modern societies, and identify relevant cultural and geographic groupings within these periods. 


National Science Foundation, Award: DBI-1639145

National Science Foundation, Award: DBI-1523830

Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, Award: PE 19723