Interpreting the historical terrestrial vertebrate biodiversity of Cayman Brac (Greater Antilles, Caribbean) through collagen fingerprinting

Virginia Harvey, Victoria Egerton, Andrew Chamberlain, Phillip Manning, W I Sellers, Michael Buckley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Cayman Brac (Cayman Islands) lies within the Caribbean Islands Biodiversity Hotspot, an epicenter of high biodiversity and endemism. However, all endemic terrestrial mammals on the Cayman Islands are now extinct, following post-1500 AD human colonization of the islands. Introduced rodents and domesticated mammals now exclusively represent this facet of terrestrial fauna on the Cayman Islands, and are a likely cause of endemic species loss on the islands. Cayman Brac has numerous caves and rock fissures that offer protection to a naturally accumulated ensemble of vertebrate sub-fossil bone remains, documenting modifications in island biodiversity through the Holocene. In this study, we showcase the first molecular faunal survey undertaken on sub-fossil remains from the Cayman Islands, using collagen fingerprinting for taxonomic identification of the cave skeletal deposits collected from a single cave system, Green Cave on Cayman Brac. Collagen type (I) extracts from 485 bone fragments were analyzed to determine faunal identity and assemblage composition. A total of 76% of the collagen fingerprint-yielding samples were mammalian in origin, 67% of which were identified as invasive murid rodents. Here, we present mass spectral biomarkers for the endemic terrestrial mammal fauna of Cayman Brac, including the extinct capromyid rodents, Capromys and Geocapromys (Rodentia: Capromyidae), alongside commentary on the composition of the sub-fossil bone assemblage between the five distinct depositional chambers that comprise Green Cave. Collagen (I) provides a key service in taxonomic identification and mapping of macroevolutionary trends, and these results suggest a pivotal role for murid rodents in the competition and extinction of terrestrial endemic mammals from the Cayman Islands.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-542
JournalThe Holocene
Issue number4
Early online date29 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2019


  • Caribbean
  • Cayman Islands
  • collagen fingerprinting
  • paleobiodiversity
  • species identification
  • ZooMS

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