Huellas in English, Investigaciones/Tratados

New findings on Hispaniolan monkeys

The collecting of a primate femur and other fossil remains lead to a new breakthrough in Caribbean paleontology. Specialists discovered fossils of a primate and other species in a southern area of Hispaniola, presented in a preliminary study which suggests a higher level of endemism in the region and extends the territorial distribution patterns of endemic monkeys throughout the island.

Anthropology and Evolution expert Siobhan Cooke and a team of scientists, curators and conservationists discovered fossils that belong to Rodentia, Eulipotyphla, Pilosa and Primate orders in an expedition that took place in July 2015. The environmental specialist Gerson Feliz from Grupo Jaragua found the femur between red clay sediments, rocks and boulders, inside a 26-foot-deep dry cave at Parque Nacional Jaragua, in the southwestern region of Dominican Republic.

According to the study, the bone presents adult monkey characteristics, similar dimensions to Antillothrix bernensis, one of the two discovered endemic extinct primates of the island. Cooke describes the fossil as a “nearly complete” specimen, which measures 4.3 inches long and 0.9 inches ML epicondyle wide.

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“We’re conducting comparison studies to identify to which of the two known species it belongs to, which could take months or even years as we compare the fossil with preserved materials in museums of the United States and other countries of the world”, explained Juan Almonte, head curator of the vertebrate collection of the Dominican Natural History Museum and one of the specialists involved in the paleontological project.

Preliminary analysis suggests the southwest region of the island, particularly the area from Tiburon Peninsula in Haiti to Barahona Peninsula in Dominican Republic, homes larger fauna communities then the rest of the island which, according to the study, turns out to be Biogeographically “unsurprising” as the current theory explains Hispaniola once comprised two paleoislands, divided by a shallow channel running in a southeastern direction just north of the Sierra Bahoruco.

“Having a better understanding of these animals and the way they moved around both paleoislands, helps us learn more about biodiversity and its distribution in the Caribbean. It is very important to know why these animals became extinct about 5,000 years ago to see if we can save the few that are alive today.”, says Cooke on the project.

The Hispaniolan monkey Antillothrix bernensis was first described by Renato Rímoli in 1977, deepened by Helen Green, Robyn Pickering, Siobhan Cooke, Alfred Rosenberger and Melissa Tallman after the discovery of a tibia fossil in an underwater cave in Parque Nacional del Este in La Altagracia province, Dominican Republic. They determined that the primate was an arboreal species, that fed on fruits and leafs, and lived on the island at least a million years ago.

The Insulacebus toussaintiana is a less known species, discovered by Dan Cordier y Charles Woods and described by Cooke and other specialists in 2011 from cranial-dental remains found on Tiburon Peninsula in Haiti.

Mapa Hispaniola Paleo Islas

The femur found in the Pedernales province extends the territory endemic primates inhabited on the island, and has not been compared with none of the two species of extinct monkeys at the moment of this publication. The last time a discovery of this kind took place in the island was between 2009 and 2011.

Other Species

During the expedition, 11 other non-flying mammal species were collected from the cave in Pedernales, which includes two that could be newly discovered. “A small-bodied sloth from the Neocnus genus and a new Isolobodon rodent. These taxonomy specimens have been recovered from other caves in the province of Pedernales (Dominican Republic).”, reads on the paper.

“We are working on the description of these species. As these fossils appear to be discovered for the first time, we have to perform a comparison with existing fossil collections preserved in museums to make sure they are really new species”, Cooke explains.

About the Project

The paleontological project began in 2008 when Cooke and others started to search for fossilized remains in underground caves in La Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Since 2013, the project is carried out with funds donated by the AAPA Professional Development Grant. It has been supported by Renato Rímoli, Laura Gibson and the staff of the Dominican Natural History Museum, the Museum of the Dominican Man and Grupo Jaragua.

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