The Greater Antillean platyrrhines: Biogeography and paleobiology

by Cooke, Siobhan B., Ph.D., CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, 2011, 186 pages; 3481496


The Greater Antilles were once home to an endemic radiation of platyrrhine primates including five species, Xenothrix mcgregori from Jamaica, Paralouatta varonai and P. marianae from Cuba, the Hispaniolan species Antillothrix bernensis, and Insulacebus toussaintiana from Haiti. This dissertation seeks to expand our knowledge of this group through the analysis of biogeographical patterns, paleobiology with a particular focus on paleodietary reconstruction, and through the description of new fossil material.

To date, much of the scholarship on the Antillean fauna has focused on phylogeny and biogeography. Of particular concern is how and when the Antillean primates entered the Caribbean and to which mainland taxa they might be related. The evidence presented here suggests a Miocene entry by members of at least two platyrrhine clades, though an earlier colonization via the GAARlandia landspan and Caribbean monophyly cannot be excluded.

In the 1980s, a nearly complete primate dentition in association with gnathic fragments was recovered from the Tiburon Peninsula of western Haiti. This material represents a new species, Insulacebus toussaintiana , a likely relative of the Jamaican primate, Xenothrix mcgregori . Insulacebus has several unusual anatomical features including small maxillary lateral incisors, a P2 that is small and simplified compared to P4, lower canines that are triangular at the base, mandibular premolars and molars with closely approximated cusps, and polycuspate M3s. The latter two features it shares with Xenothrix.

Paleodietary reconstruction for Insulacebus and the other Caribbean forms was best accomplished through the use of landmark-based three-dimensional measures of molar form. The sample included 208 extant platyrrhines from 9 genera and 22 individual extinct platyrrhines representing 15 species from Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, and the Greater Antilles. Principal component and discriminate function analyses of the landmark data found that the morphological variation across the sample corresponded largely to the dietary profiles documented in field studies, and not to the phylogenetic relationships of the taxa. While the landmark-based data could be used to successfully differentiate primates by dietary guild, measures of crown relief based on surface area ratios were much less successful in differentiating primates by diet. In all, the Caribbean forms represent an island radiation showing evidence for dietary flexibility particularly within the general category of frugivory in the species Paralouatta varonai, Antillothrix bernensis, and Insulacebus toussaintiana. The enigmatic Xenothrix mcgregori may have occupied an ecological niche with no modern platyrrhine analogue. As additional fossil evidence accumulates, we will be better able to evaluate their adaptations to the unique Caribbean environment.

AdviserAlfred L. Rosenberger
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsPhysical anthropology; Paleoecology
Publication Number3481496

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