Ancient Caribbean-Mainland Plant and Animal Translocations: Cultural, Biogeographic and Biodiversity Legacy

Author(s): Lourdes Pérez Iglesias; Lee Newsom

Year: 2015


The Caribbean’s pre-peopling flora and fauna were the culminations of both vicariant and long-distance dispersal processes, coupled with evolution in relative isolation spanning more than 20 Mya. Human colonization beginning around 7,000 years ago coincided with extinctions of megalonychid sloths and giant flightless owls-- the archipelago’s only large terrestrial vertebrates-- probably precipitating the first human-induced trophic cascades and initiating the first of a series of human-environmental legacy effects. Early migrants translocated familiar home garden trees and root crops from mainland sources, the cultivation of which signals the earliest evidence for biotic resource management. Large accumulations of shell midden and burning outside the natural fire regime are additional expressions of human niche construction over time. Later migrants from South America introduced additional plants and animals-- both domesticated and wild or tamed-- and transferred some native taxa among individual islands. These circumstances enhanced the agrobiodiversity and affected food security. These activities also suggest a broader range of managerial practices, encompassing both food and non-food purposes and behaviors, generally tracking increasing social complexity. A final phase, known as the "Columbian Exchange," involved European introductions of additional taxa, e.g., pig and watermelon, from the Old World and Pacific Islands.

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Cite this Record

Ancient Caribbean-Mainland Plant and Animal Translocations: Cultural, Biogeographic and Biodiversity Legacy. Lee Newsom, Lourdes Pérez Iglesias. Presented at The 80th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, San Francisco, California. 2015 ( tDAR id: 395446)


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min long: -90.747; min lat: 3.25 ; max long: -48.999; max lat: 27.683 ;