Tag Archives: Guadeloupe

Subfossil Record Reveals Human Impacts on a Lesser Antillean Endemic Anole

Figure 2: Landmarks (black point circled in white) and sliding landmarks (black points) used in the geometric morphometric analysis.

Figure 1. Landmarks (black point circled in white) and sliding landmarks (black points) used in the geometric morphometric analysis.

The knowledge of the past squamate fauna of the Guadeloupe islands (French Lesser Antilles) dramatically increased these last years in the framework of two European paleontological research programs. New archaeological and paleontological excavations (about which I previously talked) have been conducted and led to the discovery of thousands of squamate remains allowing to complete the pioneering works conducted by G. K. Pregill in the 90’s (Pregill et al., 1994). Results obtained on iguanas (Bochaton et al., 2016b), galliwasps (Bochaton et al., 2016a), ameivas (Bochaton et al., 2017a) and other taxa (Bailon et al., 2015; Bochaton et al., 2015; Boudadi-Maligne et al., 2016) point to high extirpation and extinction rates, mainly taking place during the last centuries after the European colonization of the archipelago and probably in relation to introduction of exogenous competitors and predators, as well as the practice of intensive agriculture.

In the middle of all of these extinctions, anoles, which are still very common in Guadeloupe, appeared to be kind of indestructible and were apparently not impacted at all by recent anthropogenic disturbances. However, the study of a huge assemblage of anole remains from Marie-Galante Island dated from Late Pleistocene to the 14th century reveals that this first impression was far from true.

Nearly 30,000 anole remains coming from several deposits were investigated using a combination of morphological and morphometric approaches. Size estimations (see Bochaton, 2016; Bochaton and Kemp, 2017) indicate that whatever the stratigraphic layer they come from, fully mature individuals range in three groups of Snout-Vent Length (SVL) size (Figure 2).

Figure 2.  SVL reconstructed on the basis of fully mature humeri (N = 66) with the results of a mixture analysis indicating a trimodal distribution. MTMS1, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the smallest fully mature humerus; MTMS 2, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the largest immature humerus; MTMS 3, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the smallest mature humerus included in the intermediately sized group.

Figure 2. SVL reconstructed on the basis of fully mature humeri (N = 66) with the results of a mixture analysis indicating a trimodal distribution. MTMS1, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the smallest fully mature humerus; MTMS 2, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the largest immature humerus; MTMS 3, minimal theoretical maximal size obtained from the smallest mature humerus included in the intermediately sized group.

These SVLs partly match those of the females (max 75mm SVL) and males (max 120 mm SVL) of the modern solitary Marie-Galante anole (Anolis ferreus). However, a third group of fossil specimens of very large size reaching 150mm SVL also occurred in the deposits and has no modern counterpart on the island. Still, morphological analysis indicates that these large specimens were also A. ferreus. A geometric morphometric analysis (Figure 1, above) was also conducted on dentaries of Marie-Galant fossils and included in a modern sample of Lesser Antillean anoles.
Figure 3. Two first axes of the PCA conducted on shape data collected for fossil and modern A. ferreus dentaries showing a diminution of morphological variability between fossil and modern anoles.

Figure 3. Two first axes of the PCA conducted on shape data collected for fossil and modern A. ferreus dentaries showing a diminution of morphological variability between fossil and modern anoles.

This analysis reveals a strong heterogeneity of the morphology of the dentary mostly depending of their size (allometry). The three fossil size groups are however closer to modern A. ferreus than to any other modern taxa and are linked by a common allometric relationship between their size and shape which differs from modern A. ferreus. The morphological variability of the fossil dentaries is also higher than that of modern A. ferreus (Figure 3).

These results indicate that all fossils are likely to correspond to A. ferreus. However, fossil representatives are more morphologically variable in terms of size, shape, and allometry than modern A. ferreus.The morphology of fossil A. ferreus remained stable during more than 30,000 years before an abrupt change that occurred during the last centuries. There is, however, a void of fossil data during the modern period which precludes linking this reduction of morphological variability between fossil and modern A. ferreus to a distinct event. Yet, this phenomenon is contemporaneous to the numerous extinction events documented on Marie-Galante and is thus very likely to be also related to the anthropization of the island.

This study also provides a strong argument again the hypothesis of the past occurrence of a second anole species smaller than modern A. ferreus on Marie-Galante and used to explain the large size reached nowadays by this insular solitary anole.

More details can be found in the publication of this work:

Bochaton, C., S. Bailon, A. Herrel, S. Grouard, I. Ineich, A. Tresset, and R. Cornette. 2017b. Human impacts reduce morphological diversity in an insular species of lizard. Proc. R. Soc. B 284:20170921.

References

Bailon, S., C. Bochaton, and A. Lenoble. 2015. New data on Pleistocene and Holocene herpetofauna of Marie-Galante (Blanchard Cave, Guadeloupe Islands, French West Indies): Insular faunal turnover and human impact. Quaternary Science Reviews 128:127–137.

Bochaton, C. 2016. Describing archaeological Iguana Laurenti, 1768 (Squamata: Iguanidae) populations: size and skeletal maturity. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology 26:716–724.

Bochaton, C., and M. E. Kemp. 2017. Reconstructing the body sizes of Quaternary lizards using Pholidoscelis Fitzinger, 1843 and Anolis Daudin, 1802 as case studies. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 37:e1239626.

Bochaton, C., R. Boistel, F. Cassagrande, S. Grouard, and S. Bailon. 2016a. A fossil Diploglossus (Squamata, Anguidae) lizard from Basse-Terre and Grande-Terre islands (Guadeloupe, French West-Indies). Scientific Report 28475:1–12.

Bochaton, C., S. Grouard, R. Cornette, I. Ineich, A. Tresset, and S. Bailon. 2015. Fossil and subfossil herpetofauna from Cadet 2 Cave (Marie-Galante, Guadeloupe Islands, F. W. I.): Evolution of an insular herpetofauna since the Late Pleistocene. Comptes Rendus Palévol 14:101–110.

Bochaton, C., S. Bailon, I. Ineich, M. Breuil, A. Tresset, and S. Grouard. 2016b. From a thriving past to an uncertain future: Zooarchaeological evidence of two millennia of human impact on a large emblematic lizard (Iguana delicatissima) on the Guadeloupe Islands (French West Indies). Quaternary Science Reviews 150:172–183.

Bochaton, C., R. Boistel, S. Grouard, I. Ineich, A. Tresset, and S. Bailon. 2017a. Evolution, diversity and interactions with past human populations of recently extinct Pholidoscelis lizards (Squamata: Teiidae) from the Guadeloupe Islands (French West-Indies). Historical Biology.

Boudadi-Maligne, M., S. Bailon, C. Bochaton, F. Cassagrande, S. Grouard, N. Serrand, and A. Lenoble. 2016. Evidence for historical human-induced extinctions of vertebrate species on La Désirade (French West Indies). Quaternary Research 85:54–65.

Pregill, G. K., D. W. Steadman, and D. R. Watters. 1994. Late Quaternary vertebrate faunas of the Lesser Antilles: historical components of Caribbean biogeography. Bulletin of Carnegie Museum of Natural History 30:1–51.

Blanchard Cave, a Window into the Late Pleistocene and Holocene Squamates from Marie-Galante Island (Guadeloupe Archipelago, Lesser Antilles)

Over the past few years, two European research programs developed an interest in the ancient fauna and environment of the Guadeloupe islands. The prospection for cave deposits led to the discovery of numerous accumulations of fossil remains documenting the Holocene and Late Pleistocene faunas of the archipelago, especially on the island of Marie-Galante, where three major deposits were discovered.

Blanchard Cave is one of these deposits. This cave contains the oldest fossil-bearing sedimentary layers of the island dated around 40,000 years before present and is an excellent complement to the two others cave documenting the Late Pleistocene fauna of Marie-Galante (Cadet 2 and Cadet 3).

After a test excavation in 2008 that revealed the potential of the site in term of fossil fauna, Blanchard cave was investigated between 2013 and 2014 in the framework of a European research program interested in the past environment and fauna of the Guadeloupe islands, the BIVAAG project. The three excavation campaigns conducted during this period allowed the precise documentation of the sedimentary filling of the cavities and the recovering of thousands of skeletal remains mainly attributed to frogs, lizards, snakes and bats.

The excavation work in the cave (Picture: A. Lenoble)

The excavation work in the cave (Picture: A. Lenoble)

 

Welcome gifts from the bats… (Picture: C. Bochaton)

Welcome gifts from the bats… (Picture: C. Bochaton)

But collecting the fossils remains was not that easy and although the perspective of working in the Caribbean a few hundred meters from the sea could seem very attractive, the working conditions in the cave were far from pleasant. Mainly because the cave was inhabited from the ground to the roof by numerous cockroaches, rats, gnats and bats. Bats were extremely noisy, and proved to be extremely rude hosts. Another difficulty was the potential occurrence of histoplasmosis in the cave that led to the necessity of wearing a respirator during the work. Such masks make breathing difficult during the work and combined with the heat, humidity and other disagreements previously mentioned strongly impact your initial enthusiasm.

Once you overlook these difficulties, the sediment was extracted from the site and then washed and sieved in order to retrieve the small bones contained in it (the bones are usually smaller than 5 mm). The remains were then recovered and sorted, partly in the field (unfortunately this activity often kept the paleontologists outside of the cave and away from the bats), before being studied.

Washing and sieving of the sediments (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Washing and sieving of the sediments (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Recovering of the fossil bones (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

Recovering of the fossil bones (Picture: M. E. Kemp)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The results of the study of the squamates remains collected in the cave can be found in a very recently published paper. To summarize the main findings, we found evidence of the past occurrence of at least ten species of snakes and lizards: four snakes: Antillotyphlops sp., Boa sp., Alsophis cf. antillensis and an undetermined colubroid; and six lizards: Anolis ferreus, Iguana sp., Leiocephalus sp, Thecadactylus sp., cf. Capitellum mariagalantae and Ameiva sp.. The stratigraphic distribution of these taxa in the site combined with previously existing data show that only two extinctions (Boa sp. and Colubroid ind.) are dated from the Pleistocene/Holocene transition and thus predate the arrival of humans on the islands around 5000 years ago. Then during the pre-Columbian times two new taxa appear in the deposits, Iguana and Thecadactylus. On the other hand, a massive faunal turnover began after the European colonization of the island. Indeed, at least six squamate genera (Leiocephalus, Capitellum, Ameiva, Antillotyphlops, Alsophis and Erythrolamprus), including all the snake genera, were extirpated between 1492 and today. Thus, 55% of the squamate genera present during pre-Columbian times went extinct over the past few centuries.

These results are further evidence of the current sixth mass extinction crisis and of the strong impact of humans on this insular fauna. However, Marie-Galante Island remains an isolated case because the past fauna of most of the Lesser Antillean islands remains poorly known and in most cases totally unknown despite the critical importance that such data may have in many fields to test inferences built on modern data.