Saba coral reef, new wildlife discoveries

This 20 February 2018 deep sea video shows conger eels, sharks and other wildlife near Saba island in the Caribbean.

The Dutch ship Pelagia is doing research about the coral reefs of the Saba Bank. Near the island, there are pollution problems. However, the ship also discovered a so far unknown reef which is in good condition.

This 2014 video features a closer inspection of some of the coral reef fauna found at Saba.

This video is about the 2018 Pelagia research.


Taino ancestry in Puerto Rico, other islands

This video says about itself:

My Ancestry DNA Results! – (Puerto Rican)

1 January 2016

My Ancestry DNA results are finally in! Here they are from highest percentage to lowest:

Spanish/Portuguese – 27%
British – 26%
Native American – 20%
Middle Eastern – 7%
Nigerian 4%
North African – 3%
Senegalese – 3%
Italian – 3%

Trace regions under %1 are not listed.

From St John’s College, University of Cambridge in England:

Researchers have produced the first clear genetic evidence that the indigenous people whom Columbus first encountered in the New World still have living descendants today

February 19, 2018

Summary: A thousand-year-old tooth has provided the first clear genetic evidence that the Taíno — the indigenous people whom Columbus first encountered on arriving in the New World — still have living descendants today, despite erroneous claims in some historical narratives that these people are extinct. The findings are likely to have particular resonance for people in the Caribbean and the US who claim Taíno ancestry, but have until now been unable to prove definitively that such a thing is possible.

A thousand-year-old tooth has provided genetic evidence that the so-called “Taíno”, the first indigenous Americans to feel the full impact of European colonisation after Columbus arrived in the New World, still have living descendants in the Caribbean today.

Researchers were able to use the tooth of a woman found in a cave on the island of Eleuthera in the Bahamas to sequence the first complete ancient human genome from the Caribbean. The woman lived at some point between the 8th and 10th centuries, at least 500 years before Columbus made landfall in the Bahamas.

The results provide unprecedented insights into the genetic makeup of the Taíno — a label commonly used to describe the indigenous people of that region. This includes the first clear evidence that there has been some degree of continuity between the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean and contemporary communities living in the region today.

Such a link had previously been suggested by other studies based on modern DNA. None of these, however, was able to draw on an ancient genome. The new research finally provides concrete proof that indigenous ancestry in the region has survived to the present day.

Comparing the ancient Bahamian genome to those of contemporary Puerto Ricans, the researchers found that they were more closely related to the ancient Taíno than any other indigenous group in the Americas. However, they argue that this characteristic is unlikely to be exclusive to Puerto Ricans alone and are convinced that future studies will reveal similar genetic legacies in other Caribbean communities.

The findings are likely to be especially significant for people in the Caribbean and elsewhere who have long claimed indigenous Taíno heritage, despite some historical narratives that inaccurately brand them “extinct.” Such misrepresentations have been heavily criticised by historians and archaeologists, as well as by descendant communities themselves, but until now they lacked clear genetic evidence to support their case.

The study was carried out by an international team of researchers led by Dr Hannes Schroeder and Professor Eske Willerslev within the framework of the ERC Synergy project NEXUS1492. The findings are published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Lead author Schroeder, from the University of Copenhagen who carried out the research as part of the NEXUS1492 project, said: “It’s a fascinating finding. Many history books will tell you that the indigenous population of the Caribbean was all but wiped out, but people who self-identify as Taíno have always argued for continuity. Now we know they were right all along: there has been some form of genetic continuity in the Caribbean.”

Willerslev, who has dual posts at St John’s College, University of Cambridge, and the University of Copenhagen, said: “It has always been clear that people in the Caribbean have Native American ancestry, but because the region has such a complex history of migration, it was difficult to prove whether this was specifically indigenous to the Caribbean, until now.”

The researchers were also able to trace the genetic origins of the indigenous Caribbean islanders, showing that they were most closely related to Arawakan-speaking groups who live in parts of northern South America today. This suggests that the origins of at least some the people who migrated to the Caribbean can be traced back to the Amazon and Orinoco Basins, where the Arawakan languages developed.

The Caribbean was one of the last parts of the Americas to be populated by humans starting around 8,000 years ago. By the time of European colonization, the islands were a complex patchwork of different societies and cultures. The “Taíno” culture was dominant in the Greater, and parts of the Lesser Antilles, as well as the Bahamas, where the people were known as Lucayans.

To trace the genetic origins of the Lucayans the researchers compared the ancient Bahamian genome with previously published genome-wide datasets for over 40 present-day indigenous groups from the Americas. In addition, they looked for traces of indigenous Caribbean ancestry in present-day populations by comparing the ancient genome with those of 104 contemporary Puerto Ricans included in the 1000 Genomes Project. The 10-15% of Native American ancestry in this group was shown to be closely related to the ancient Bahamian genome.

Jorge Estevez, a Taíno descendant who works at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York and assisted the project team, said that as a boy growing up in the United States, he was told stories about his Taíno ancestors at home, but at school was taught that the same ancestors had died out. “I wish my grandmother were alive today so that I could confirm to her what she already knew,” he added. “It shows that the true story is one of assimilation, certainly, but not total extinction. I am genuinely grateful to the researchers. Although this may have been a matter of scientific inquiry for them, to us, the descendants, it is truly liberating and uplifting.”

Although indigenous Caribbean communities were island-based, the researchers found very little genomic evidence of isolation or inbreeding in the ancient genome. This reinforces earlier genetic research led by Willerslev, which suggests that early human communities developed surprisingly extensive social networks, long before the term had digital connotations. It also echoes ongoing work by researchers at the Faculty of Archaeology in Leiden and others indicating the connectedness of indigenous Caribbean communities.

Professor Corinne Hofman from Leiden University and PI of the NEXUS1492 project, said: “Archaeological evidence has always suggested that large numbers of people who settled the Caribbean originated in South America, and that they maintained social networks that extended far beyond the local scale. Historically, it has been difficult to back this up with ancient DNA because of poor preservation, but this study demonstrates that it is possible to obtain ancient genomes from the Caribbean and that opens up fascinating new possibilities for research.”

See also here. And here. And here.

Mangrove forest wildlife

This video says about itself:

20 October 2017

Where the tropical ocean meets the sea, a peculiar kind of plant thrives in shallow, salty water. These mangrove plants are incredibly important for shoreline protection and baby fish habitats. Jonathan investigates life in mangroves by visiting both Caribbean and Pacific mangroves.


Extinct Caribbean mammals

This 2014 video is called Cuba Wild Island of the Caribbean – The Secrets of Nature.

From Stony Brook University in the USA:

Caribbean islands reveal a ‘lost world’ of ancient mammals

November 6, 2017

Summary: An analysis of the incredibly diverse “lost world” of Caribbean fossils includes dozens of ancient mammals, a new study reports. The study reveals that the arrival of humans throughout the islands was likely the primary cause of the extinction of native mammal species there.

Although filled with tropical life today, the Caribbean islands have been a hotspot of mammal extinction since the end of the last glaciation, some 12,000 years ago. Since people also arrived after that time, it has been impossible to determine whether natural changes or human influence are most responsible for these extinctions. A new review by an international team of scientists, including Stony Brook University Professor Liliana M. Dávalos, reports an analysis of the incredibly diverse “lost world” of Caribbean fossils that includes giant rodents, vampire bats, enigmatic monkeys, ground sloths, shrews and dozens of other ancient mammals. The article, published November 6 in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics, reveals that the arrival of humans and their subsequent activities throughout the islands was likely the primary cause of the extinction of native mammal species there.

The Caribbean islands were not the only region to lose many mammal species; many large mammals from ground sloths to mastodons also vanished from continental North America. As dramatic and natural changes in the environment and the arrival of people to the continent roughly coincide in time, a scientific debate on what caused the demise of this fauna continues. Because people arrived to the islands long after the end of the glaciation, starting some 6,000 years ago, the Caribbean islands provide an ideal laboratory for discovering the cause of these losses.

In the review, the scientists report analyses of the most comprehensive radiocarbon data set of Caribbean mammals and human arrivals in the Caribbean, representing 57 extinction and extirpation (when a population vanishes from an island) events for native species. While the scattered data by themselves are invaluable, separate data points are hard to interpret, as different methods used at various sites can obscure larger patterns. So, the research team introduced a chronology developed by collecting established fossil dates reported in dozens of already-published and peer reviewed papers in an array of scientific journals.

“By using models to estimate the time of overlap between people and extinct mammals on each island, we were able to show most mammal extinctions happened after the arrival of humans on various islands in the Caribbean, and not before,” explained Dávalos, who led the quantitative analyses of the study. While the overlap between people and the fauna is not proof positive of human causes for the many extinction events in the region, it is an important step to determine why these mammals went extinct. Weaving together data from the many journal articles and archaeological site reports, the team concluded that the timing of extinctions indicates humans may be involved in the extinction of more than 60% of the nearly 150 native mammal species.

Multiple waves of human settlement in the Caribbean occurred over the past six to seven thousand years. The first settlers, Amerindian people from South or Central America known as the Lithic culture, were followed by two other waves — the Archaic and Ceramic, both from South America. The authors showed that after the initial waves of human arrival, mammal extinctions followed, presumably first caused by hunting and later by forest clearing for agriculture, which reduces the habitat for native mammals. A final wave of human migration, this time from across the Atlantic, brought with it cats, rats, goats, mongoose, and other introduced mammals. The ensuing change in habitats, and both competition and predation, resulted in the extinction of about a dozen populations on the smaller islands of the Lesser Antilles. These predators and competitors can affect the populations of Caribbean mammals that survived previous extinction waves.

“While this article is the result of an important collaboration of scientists — with each author bringing their expertise to the table to solve the puzzle mammal extinction — saving the community of mammals of today needs a much wider group of professionals, especially on each island, which is why we are assembling a larger team,” she added.

Dávalos’ team is now working to bring together a larger, interdisciplinary team of colleagues to create an intensive conservation management plan incorporating the expertise of conservation researchers, biologist, ecologists, policy-makers, educators, and land and wildlife management experts to save the last surviving native Caribbean mammals.

“In examining data from both paleontological digs and archeological reports, the evidence highlights the need for urgent human intervention to protect the native mammal species still inhabiting the region, and that is why we are coming together with scientists from all over the Caribbean,” concluded Dávalos.


Caribbean birds and hurricanes

This 2012 video from the USA is called [American] Robins feasting on holly berries during Hurricane Sandy.

From the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in the USA:

Hurricane impacts on Caribbean birds

This year’s Atlantic hurricane season has brought devastation to many parts of the Caribbean, and our hearts go out to those who have been impacted by these storms. In addition to the humanitarian consequences of these storms, bird populations have been significant affected. Thanks to our partners at BirdsCaribbean for this summary: read more.


Caribbean Sint Maarten wildlife Hurricane Irma damage

This video says about itself:

This clip is a tribute to the rich nature and marvelous wildlife on three islands in the Dutch CaribbeanSint Eustatius, Saba and Sint Maarten. Veldkijker filmed on the islands for several weeks in 2016 on behalf of Stichting Natuurbeelden and the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision.

Translated from Dutch daily Trouw:

Joop Bouma

5:00, 12 October 2017

More than a month after Hurricane Irma hit the islands of Sint Maarten, Saba and Sint Eustatius, the full extent of damage to nature – below and above water – is slowly becoming evident. The damage, especially on St. Maarten, is bigger than thought. A conservationist speaks of ‘an environmental disaster’.

Also on Saba there is considerable damage, including Mount Scenery, the 887 meter high sleeping volcano. The unique, secondary rainforest on the flanks of the highest mountain of the kingdom [of the Netherlands] has been severely affected.

It is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the vegetation is damaged or destroyed. There is also good news: the unique mahogany trees at the summit have survived the enormous wind forces. The damage to Saint Eustatius is not as bad, even though the slopes of the sleeping volcano The Quill are severely damaged.

According to the latest reports of conservationists on the three islands, Irma and the slightly milder [for these islands] Hurricane Maria, which struck a few days later, has damaged the nature of the Caribbean islands for years.


On St. Maarten about 200 boats have sunk, ranging in size from 5 to 100 meters. Earlier, the number of sunken vessels was estimated at 120. Oil and other fuel from these ships is leaking slowly.

According to Tadzio Bervoets of the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (a partnership of Leeward islands conservationists) thousands of liters of fuel leak from the sunken ships. Especially Simpson Bay, a lagoon on the border of the Dutch and French parts of Saint Martin, has been severely affected. “This is an environmental disaster”, said Bervoets in his latest damage report.

On St. Maarten many historic trees have been felled by Irma. According to Bervoets, some bird species are already recovering. But the brown pelican, the national bird of Saint Maarten, has been decimated. Bervoets’ nature organization has asked residents to feed these birds in their gardens.

Of the mangroves on St. Maarten it is estimated that 90 percent gave been destroyed. In Millet Pond, an internationally protected wetland in Simpson Bay, the mangrove has suffered severe damage. Seagrass beds on the coast of the island have also been wiped out. It is estimated that two hectares were ruined by the hurricane.

Although not everything has been investigated, there has been a considerable amount of damage to the coral reefs of St. Maarten. In the National Marine Park of St. Maarten, founded six years ago, half of the coral is said to have disappeared or be affected. In St. Eustatius, the situation of the corals is more rosy. There is almost no damage underwater. However, the ten coral ladders, who had been placed 6 meters underwater in the Jenkins Bay to grow coral, were destroyed by the storm.


Caribbean praying mantises’ African ancestry

This 2013 video from the USA is called Florida Bark Mantis (Gonatista grisea). Camouflage.

From the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Caribbean praying mantises have ancient African origin

Researchers uncover the lineage of three praying mantis groups

September 26, 2017

Three seemingly unrelated praying mantis groups inhabiting Cuba and the rest of the Greater Antilles actually share an ancient African ancestor and possibly form the oldest endemic animal lineage on the Caribbean islands, Cleveland Museum of Natural History researchers have determined.

Mantises from the African lineage landed on the Greater Antilles islands more than 92 million years ago, likely hitching a ride on floating ocean debris. They were present tens of millions of years before other mantis groups arrived from Central and South America, and also before animals such as land snails, lizards and shrews got to the islands.

Although the ancestral mantis lineage in Africa went extinct, its descendants in the Greater Antilles have evolved in drastically different directions and have endured there. They even survived the massive comet or asteroid impact in the nearby Gulf of Mexico 66 million years ago that is thought to have helped exterminate most life on Earth.

“It’s extraordinary that a single lineage of mantises has been able to persist for more than 90 million years within a small island system,” says Museum Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Assistant Director of Science Gavin Svenson, Ph.D., the study’s lead author “Never have these three endemic mantises been linked as close relatives, since they look so different from each other. Discovering that they came to the islands from an African ancestor was remarkable. It speaks to how much more there is to learn, even for animals we think we know a lot about.”

Dr. Svenson and Ph.D. candidate Henrique Rodrigues, a biology graduate student at Case Western Reserve University, report their findings in a study published online September 27, 2017, in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Dr. Svenson is an internationally recognized praying mantis authority. His lab at the Museum contains more than 13,000 mantis specimens from his own field research and on loan from other museum collections. It is the largest such assemblage in the Western Hemisphere.

To trace the Antilles mantises’ history, Dr. Svenson and Rodrigues collected specimens of the three endemic mantis groups and used DNA analysis and computer-based methods to reconstruct the timing and location of their origins.

Previous efforts to explain how living things colonized the Greater Antilles have been hampered by the islands’ complex geographic history. The islands’ locations have shifted as Earth’s continents and tectonic plates moved around.

In the distant past, the Greater Antilles were close to — or sometimes connected with — Central and South America.

The island chain’s changing location relative to larger land masses makes it hard for scientists to determine when and how various animals arrived there, and whether individual species are related. Most studies have focused on vertebrates and plants, even though there are more than two times as many native terrestrial arthropods on the Greater Antilles as there are plants and vertebrate animals combined.

Deciphering the origins of the three main praying mantis groups on the islands is made more complex by their appearance.

Mantises of the Callimantis, Epaphrodita and Gonatista genera don’t look or act like each other, even though they live in the same, relatively small, geographic area. Instead, they resemble nonrelated mantises from South America and Africa.

Despite their appearance differences, the three Greater Antilles endemic mantis groups actually are connected by a common ancestor, the Museum researchers’ analysis showed. They likely descended from a single western African praying mantis lineage that dispersed to the Greater Antilles more than 92 million years ago. Although it’s possible the insects flew across the ocean, the more probable scenario is that flotsam transported pregnant females or hardy egg cases.

Once present on the Greater Antilles, the African mantises embarked on distinctly different evolutionary paths, adapting their body features and lifestyles to specific habitats and conditions within the island chain. Members of Epaphrodita, for example, camouflage themselves by mimicking dead leaves, while Gonatista camouflage as bark and dwell on tree trunks.

The three Greater Antilles mantis groups’ resemblance to various mantises from outside the Caribbean isn’t due to close kinship; instead, it’s an example of convergent evolution, where different lineages independently evolve similar traits because they occupy similar environments.

It’s a reminder that the praying mantis family tree shouldn’t be organized based solely on appearance. Dr. Svenson has spent much of his career revising mantis classifications and relationships using modern genetics techniques.

Although the African emigrant mantises have done well in their adopted home, they have not spread beyond the Caribbean islands, with the exception of a single Cuban species, Gonatista grisea, that has become established in the southern United States. Otherwise, the Greater Antilles mantises may not be adaptable to mainland conditions, or perhaps can’t cope with the larger mix of competitors and predators beyond the islands.

The mantises’ newfound origins and long-term persistence on the Greater Antilles add an important chapter to the islands’ evolutionary history, Dr. Svenson says.

“Studying older insect groups, such as praying mantises, can greatly expand our knowledge of early island history and uncover unique lineages important to global biodiversity, not to mention Caribbean biodiversity“, he says. “Evidence from early insects can also inform or corroborate our ideas of Caribbean ecosystem formation or geologic history.”