Recent extinctions disturb path to equilibrium diversity in Caribbean bats


Islands are ideal systems to model temporal changes in biodiversity and reveal the influence of humans on natural communities. Although theory predicts biodiversity on islands tends towards an equilibrium value, the recent extinction of large proportions of island biotas complicates testing this model. The well-preserved subfossil record of Caribbean bats—involving multiple insular radiations—provides a rare opportunity to model diversity dynamics in an insular community. Here, we reconstruct the diversity trajectory in noctilionoid bats of the Greater Antilles by applying a dynamic model of colonization, extinction and speciation to phylogenetic and palaeontological data including all known extinct and extant species. We show species richness asymptotes to an equilibrium value, a demonstration of natural equilibrium dynamics across an entire community. However, recent extinctions—many caused by humans—have wiped out nearly a third of island lineages, dragging diversity away from equilibrium. Using a metric to measure island biodiversity loss, we estimate it will take at least eight million years to regain pre-human diversity levels. Our integrative approach reveals how anthropogenic extinctions can drastically alter the natural trajectory of biological communities, resulting in evolutionary disequilibrium. *L.M. Dávalos corresponding author

Nature Ecology and Evolution 1(0026), 1-7
Liliana M. Dávalos
Liliana M. Dávalos
Professor of Conservation Biology

I’m interested in biodiversity, both its past and its future.