When Kristoffer Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in 1492 and discovered a new continent for Europeans to exploit, the whole world changed.
With his second sailing in the fall of 1493, the Columbus Expedition landed in the eastern Caribbean on the small island of Guadaloupe.
There, a chain of events devastating to local nature was set in motion, overshadowed by larger developments.
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Since the arrival of Europeans, more than half and in some places up to 70% of the original lizards and snake species on the small islands have become extinct, reveals Science Advances published in the journal.
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Some of the extinctions of lizards and reptiles have received less attention, when they are not as charismatic animals as, say, many mammals.
A team led by researchers from the German Max Planck Institute was now working to correct this blind spot.
Based on fossil data, they made a thorough mapping of what the arrival of the conquerors meant to the reptiles of Guadaloupe.
People on the islands had lived for thousands of years. The nature of the islands was not significantly affected by the indigenous population, although they once brought alien species such as dogs and opossums to the islands.
In the centuries since the arrival of Europeans, the range of lizards and reptiles collapsed.
In 1635, the French subjugated the natives who had hitherto resisted attempts at conquest and began to transform Guadaloupe from their colony.
The forests of the islands were cleared from the path of sugar plantations. During the years of slave trade and colonialism, Guadaloupe was one of the most important sugar producers.
Half of the original lizards and reptiles on the islands were lost during these times, the study found.
On the small island of Marie-Galante, the devastation was 70%. There are only two species of lizards on the island that already lived on the island before the Europeans.
Man loved the nature of the islands, but perhaps the greater destruction was caused by the alien species that traveled with the ships, as on so many other islands around the world.
Lizards and their eggs were a tasty prey for cats and rats.
Rats were also a nuisance at sugar plantations. Thus, another alien species was shipped to combat line tails: small Asian mongooses. They also liked to prey on lizards.
None of the lost lizards have been keeping a record, but the story of the extinctions has been stored in old bones. They were excavated by researchers from caves around the islands of Guadaloupe.
Bones were able to identify 16 different species of lizards and snakes, and by timing the remains, the researchers were able to draw a picture of the history. Bones were divided into different periods starting from tens of thousands of years ago.
The fossil record showed how species began to become extinct 450 years ago, only after Europeans arrived. Before man, lizards had lived on the islands for millions of years and survived ancient climate change and upheavals.
According to researchers, the fate of many native species in other Caribbean islands has been similar.
Guadaloupe is still a French overseas department and therefore also part of the European Union, as part of France.
Source: Tiede by www.tiede.fi.
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