Researchers from the University of Florida discovered around 100 fossils from a cave in the Bahamas. These fossils revealed how man-made activities endanger the island's biodiversity.
The collection of fossils showed 39 extinct species that used to flourish on the Great Abaco Island. Towards the end of the Ice Age, around 17 bird species died from the expanding sea levels and climate change. There were 22 species of mammals, birds and reptiles that survived the climate change 10,000 years ago. However, the study revealed that these survivors became extinct when humans first stepped into the islands, roughly 1,000 years ago.
An in-depth study of how some species were able to survive drastic climate changes can benefit, even alter, how the scientific community handle specie restoration and conservation in the modern age. Scientists are fearful that altering a natural habitat and introducing aggressive species could ultimately push endangered species to the brink of extinction.
"What we see today is just a small snapshot of how species have existed for millions of years. The species that existed on Abaco up until people arrived were survivors. They withstood a variety of environmental changes, but some could not adapt quickly or drastically enough to what happened when people showed up," said study lead author Dave Steadman, Florida Museum of Natural History's ornithology curator.
Scientists now want to find out the methods behind two kinds of extinctions. Aside from looking into climate change, scientists now want to see what makes island species unable to adapt when humans start settling in.
Co-author and master's student Hayley Singleton expressed that the findings showed how humans can dramatically change habitats. In modern times, man-made activities and a different kind of climate change work together for the worse.
Together with Arizona State University's plant ecologist Jane Franklin, Steadman will return to the islands for an in-depth exploration. The National Science Foundation has approved of a $375,000 grant that will allow Steadman's team to explore the caves further. The next phase will kick off in December 2015.
The team will look into more species that survived during the dramatic climate change towards the end of the Ice Age. They will compare it will those that became extinct when the age of humans began.
The researchers published their discovery in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Photo: Gerry Zambonini | Flickr