The Pre-Columbian Exchange: The Anthropogenic Zoogeography of Insular Caribbean Translocations


The post-Columbian introduction of exotic animals in the West Indies initiated a cascade of ecological changes, resulting in extensive defaunation, reduction and homogenization of biodiversity, loss of ecosystem services, and extinction of island endemics. Yet, these changes were not without precedent in the Caribbean, one of the world’s foremost biodiversity hotspots. Evidence suggests that in the years before 1492, Amerindians in the region had already profoundly impacted insular ecology, although our understanding of the many aspects of this process varies. For instance, while the archaeological record indicates extensive introductions of South American fauna to the prehistoric Caribbean along with inter-island relocations of endemic animals, the dynamic impacts of these biological invasions remain poorly understood. Taking a diachronic approach, we review the anthropogenic zoogeography and translocation history of exotic species in the insular Caribbean over the last 2500 years, focusing principally on four wild and domestic mammalian taxa: agouti (Dasyprocta), opossum (Didelphis), guinea pig (Cavia porcellus), and hutia (Capromyidae). Drawing on zooarchaeological, isotopic, and genetic data, we contextualize the introduction and insular dispersal of these mammals within the frameworks of historical ecology and human agency, driven by economic, social, and symbolic incentives.

Cite this Record

The Pre-Columbian Exchange: The Anthropogenic Zoogeography of Insular Caribbean Translocations. Scott Fitzpatrick, Christina Giovas, Michelle LeFebvre. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Orlando, Florida. 2016 ( tDAR id: 403232)


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