New research is telling us more about Caribbean wildlife each year. Discoveries on Statia and nearby islands are piecing together one of the most fascinating puzzles in the world.
In some ways, taxonomy is the art of keeping things organized in a world where our knowledge about animals and how they are related to each other is always changing. In Statia, and the Caribbean in general, the story of our fauna is still being written, and the names of the characters are still subject to change:
The recent discovery of a hybrid iguana on Statia is an ominous sign for the native and endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana. It is also a reminder that humans have likely changed the pace of evolution on the island in many ways.
Statia’s distinctive wildlife is the product of a variety of natural processes: the slow colonization of the island by new species arriving by natural means and the adaptation of those new arrivals to the island and the other species present. The arrival of humans has brought huge changes. They are clearly visible to anyone looking out over fields of invasive Coralita vines, but many impacts are much less visible.
In the case of Coralita, an invasive plant that has spread over much of the island, the likely losers are native plants that become more scarce due to competition. Animals that may have depended on those plants—like caterpillars which often only eat specific host plants—may also decline or disappear.
Hybridization is less common—it requires two closely-related species that can interbreed. In the case of the native Lesser Antillean Iguana and the invasive Green Iguana, it exacerbates the impact of competition. Green Iguanas tend to outcompete Lesser Antillean Iguanas, but the two populations could coexist if they didn’t interbreed. Over time, hybridization may wipe out all trace of the native species.
Native animals may also rapidly change in response to new arrivals. One study looked at soapberry bugs, a group of insects that use their straw-like proboscis to pierce the fruit of a specific family of vines. After the introduction of a new food source, the length of their proboscis changed, allowing them to take advantage of a new food source. The change was surprisingly speedy, too. It was noticeable within just 50 years.
The story of invasive species is full of disasters: the rats that endanger seabirds around the world, the mongoose that wiped out the Lesser Antillean Iguana on St. Martin, and many more. As damaging as they are, only a small percentage of introduced species pose serious problems. The rest? They work their way into the local ecology of Statia, perhaps pushing native species in new evolutionary directions, perhaps adapting themselves to the island. As we continue to push ecosystems in unprecedented new directions, hopefully we will also study these less obvious interactions and learn to lessen their negative effects.
Wild Statia takes a second look at the wealth of information presented in the recent Journal of Caribbean Ornithology article about Statia. In addition to compiling records of species never seen on the island before, the article also shares data on populations that have been changing in recent years. The full article from the JCO is available as well.
In this week’s Wild Statia, we take a look at a recent publication collecting records of new bird species sighted on Statia. You can access the original article for free at the Journal of Caribbean Ornithology.
If you have been wondering what Les Fruits de Mer has been working on in Statia (Sint Eustatius), but you only speak Dutch then today is your lucky day. You can read about our work in this article in Change Magazine. (If you don’t speak Dutch, the same article is conveniently available in English as well.) Thanks to Daniëlle van Gils for sharing what we’re up to!
Anyone with an interest in Statia and its wildlife is in for a real treat: a free ebook—Wild Statia—was just released by naturalists Hannah Madden and Mark Yokoyama. The 55-page book is illustrated with captivating photos taken by the authors.
The book’s fifteen chapters each take a closer look at a unique aspect of Statia’s wildlife, from majestic tropicbirds to extraordinary nocturnal insects, and all the lizards in between. Readers will also discover more about the habitats that support wildlife and the work being done to understand and protect natural heritage. The format of the book emphasizes the fascinating stories that are often left unexplored by scientific publications.
Madden and Yokoyama will be in the field this week doing research for their upcoming guide to the wildlife of Statia, which will be the first book of its type for the island. The authors aim to complete the wildlife guide in 2016. This project is managed by the non-profit association Les Fruits de Mer, with support from the St. Eustatius Tourism Development Foundation and funding from NuStar Terminals, N.V..
In addition to documenting the animals themselves, the authors are excited to learn about wildlife from the people of Statia. According to Yokoyama, “One thing that you will notice in Wild Statia is a passion for connecting natural history with human culture—the names given to animals, the stories told about them and the ways that we have impacted nature over time. If you have any information about wildlife on Statia, we’d love to hear it.” Stories, info and names for Statian wildlife can be shared by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the chapters are adapted from articles in Yokoyama’s ongoing Wild Statia series in the Weekender section of The Daily Herald. The ebook can be downloaded right here at lesfruitsdemer.com.